Manasi Parekh is Fuel Your Future AmeriCorps member with United Way, dedicating a year of service to increasing student participation in school breakfasts, after school meals, and summer meals.
With Washington ranking 44th in the country in school breakfast participation for low-income students, the recently signed Breakfast after the Bell legislation offers great hope for kids struggling with hunger. How? In traditional school breakfast settings, food is served and eaten in the cafeteria prior to the morning bell. However, late bus schedules, social stigma and lengthy cafeteria lines often prevent students from accessing breakfast at their schools. To circumvent these issues, Breakfast after the Bell allows kids to eat breakfast in their classrooms at the start of the day.
It seemed like a big ask of teachers, cafeteria workers and custodial staff, but all it took was a little creative thinking. This March, Cascade Elementary School pioneered the Renton School District’s first Breakfast after the Bell program. Every morning, student volunteers—called “breakfast helpers”—pick up carts that contain hot and cold bags packed with all the necessary breakfast components for each classroom. Helpers deliver carts around the school so teachers can pick up their classroom’s bags and serve breakfast to their students directly in the classroom.
The first week of debuting the program, Cascade Elementary’s breakfast participation soared from 20 percent to a whopping 80 percent, averaging nearly 300 additional kids eating breakfast each day. These numbers have remained steady to date.
“Teachers have observed students being much more attentive in the classroom since the launch. Additionally, the nurse has reported a significant decrease in the number of students visiting her on account of being hungry,” said kitchen manager Jackie Hood.
Research has found that schools serving Breakfast After the Bell not only have higher breakfast participation, but also lower chronic absenteeism, better performance in school, and improved test scores.
“Parents, at a recent open house, positively commented on the program, saying that knowing their children will be fed breakfast every day at school has freed up precious time in their busy morning schedules. This makes the hard work on our end all the more worth it.”
Cascade Elementary leadership and Renton School District Nutrition Services staff have recently been selected as a 2018 No Kid Hungry Breakfast Hero, where they are recognized nationally for their tireless effort to ensure kids in their community get the healthy school breakfast they need to succeed.
Congratulations Cascade Elementary and Renton School District on your award and thank you for your commitment to your students and families, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to thrive in school!
Is your school ready for Breakfast After the Bell? Email Jenny Walden (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information and steps to get started. Interested in expanding breakfast to more schools, consider investing in United Way’s Fuel Your Future program.