Get Schooled: York County Elementary Students Enjoy Breakfast in the Classroom

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Coventry Elementary School students Madelyn Shields and Juston Shannon enjoy eating breakfast in their first period classroom. (Courtesy YCSD)
Coventry Elementary School students Madelyn Shields and Juston Shannon enjoy eating breakfast in their first period classroom. (Courtesy York County School Division)

Blueberry pancakes, sausage and cheese biscuits, and breakfast pizzas are just some of the options that many York County elementary school students can enjoy at their desks thanks to the school district’s “Breakfast in the Classroom” program.

The initiative, which is a pet project of Virginia’s First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, was first implemented several years ago at Tabb Elementary School.

Mount Vernon Elementary School joined in toward the end of last school year, and as of the end of this semester all but two elementary schools – Dare and Bethel Manor – will have begun testing the waters.

The idea behind the program is kids perform better in school when they start the day out with a hearty meal. Research indicates kids are able to better learn math and vocabulary, and perform better on standardized tests, if they start the day with a nutritious breakfast, according to a news release from the Virginia No Kid Hungry Campaign.

The No Kid Hungry Campaign was born out of the recognition that not only is eating breakfast important, it is also easily lost in the early-morning shuffle. Breakfast in the Classroom is one of three initiatives put forth by the organization to address that reality.

York was one of many counties statewide targeted for participation in Breakfast in the Classroom based on its relatively low breakfast participation rates, Associate Director of School Administration Albert Green said.

Green and other administrators in the school district’s central office felt it was important to tailor the program to meet the unique needs of each school in which it is undertaken, which is why leaders at each school can decide whether to opt in to Breakfast in the Classroom.

“We met with all the elementary school principals this summer and talked to them about how they think it would work in their school,” Green said.

All the principals expressed interest in Breakfast in the Classroom, so the school district began to plan a schedule of staggered implementation for interested schools.

In classrooms across York County’s five schools currently participating, students indicate a day in advance if they would like to have breakfast delivered right to their classroom door for the next morning.

The schools all alternate hot and cold breakfasts daily, a modification over the original plan to offer both choices each day.

“We got feedback from the teachers that it was too complicated having to juggle two options,” Green said. “It’s very important for us to be open to that kind of feedback.”

While the food served looks different from day to day, it all complies with USDA nutritional guidelines. The meals, which are provided by French food services corporation Sodexo, are guaranteed to use only whole grain bread products and to always include a full serving of fruit.

The three schools – Seaford, Coventry and Waller Mill – that have undertaken the program in the past two months have already doubled their breakfast participation levels.

They will be joined by York, Grafton Bethel and Magruder by the time Thanksgiving break rolls around, and administrators at those schools are hopeful they will see similarly improved numbers.

The information provided by administrators, teachers and students at the participating schools is likely to influence the eventual decision of the two “hold out” elementary schools that have not yet opted in.

“There are normal concerns, like whether it will take away from instruction time,” Green said of the possible downsides the program could present. “So far, though, our teachers have found the opposite to be true, since there are less kids coming in late from getting breakfast in the cafeteria.”

If the downsides can be mitigated, Green thinks there is plenty to be gained for the students, who seem to be enjoying having the option to participate in the program.

All students at participating schools have the opportunity to partake in the program. While the normal price for breakfast is $1.40 a day, students can qualify for free and reduced breakfasts the same way they do for free and reduced lunches, based on their family’s financial need.

Once things are running smoothly at the elementary level, Green expects the middle schools will be the next focal point for expansion of breakfast options.

“To launch this kind of program takes a lot of groundwork,” Green said. “We want to make sure it’s being efficiently launched and not just thrown together.”

Despite the challenges to pulling off something this big, the bottom line for the division is setting kids up for success and giving them what they need to focus and learn throughout the day.

“Anything we can do that benefits instruction, we’re going to do,” Green said. “We feel like it’s a value and a service to families as well as good for kids.”