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U46 discusses success of the first year of Breakfast in the Classroom

CaptaNutritigreets students as they arrive Thursday Harriet Gifford Elementary School Elgwhere they start school day with breakfast classroom. Submitted photo.

Captain Nutrition greets students as they arrive Thursday at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin, where they start the school day with breakfast in the classroom. Submitted photo.

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Updated: June 7, 2013 6:08AM

ELGIN — About 20 hunger, nutrition and education experts gathered for a roundtable discussion about the success of Elgin School District U46’s Breakfast in the Classroom program Thursday morning at Harriet Gifford Elementary School.

Breakfast in the Classroom is a national program that moves breakfast from the cafeteria to the classroom and makes it available for free to every student.

And that’s an important development, Elgin Teachers Association President Kathryn Castle said.

“A healthy kid is a kid that’s going to learn, and nobody questions that,” she said.

Gifford’s success includes winning the 2012-13 Illinois School Breakfast Challenge, sponsored by the Illinois State Board of Education, the Midwest Dairy Council and the Illinois No Kid Hungry Campaign. Gifford was recognized this spring along with Sheridan Elementary School in Elgin and Laurel Hill Elementary School in Hanover Park, putting a quarter of the 12 challenge winners total in the Elgin district.

They were chosen from all Illinois school districts that participate in the federal School Breakfast Program for bringing up the number of students who eat breakfast in their buildings, according to No Kid Hungry.

At Gifford, that number is about 86 percent, according to Kim Pankowski, Breakfast in the Classroom program manager for U46. The school serves 470 meals a day, compared to about 100 last year before Breakfast in the Classroom, added Christina Hernandez, manager of elementary school food service for U46.

And, Hernandez said, anecdotally, “As a result, we see children that are much happier.”

“We’ve gotten comments from the nursing staff that said we’ve had fewer visits to the nurse, which is a wonderful thing. The children are more focused and ready to learn, and I’ve had people comment about definitely the improved achievement,” she said.

Start from grant

U46 launched the Breakfast in the Classroom program at the start of the school year with a $250,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation and support from the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom.

“There were a lot of uncertainties in the beginning” and some concerns about taking time away from instruction, Gifford Principal Joe Corcoran said. But teachers were given the flexibility to make the program work in their classrooms, some calling students to the front to pick up their lunches; others, asking them to grab the meal on their way in, all finishing in the first 10 to 15 minutes of the day during morning announcements and other activities, Corcoran said.

More than 6,300 students at 10 U46 elementary and middle schools now are offered a free breakfast in their classrooms at the start of the school day, according to U46 Superintendent Jose Torres.

In U46, 54.8 percent of students are considered low income, according to Diane Doherty of the Illinois Hunger Coalition.

And while 52 percent of students in the district qualified for free and reduced-price meals last year, just 18 percent actually ate those meals, Torres said. That may have been because of late bus arrivals, pressure to get into the classroom or a “stigma” attached to those meals, he said.

Now, 77 percent of students eat breakfast at school districtwide, including 82 percent of elementary and 43 percent of middle school students, Pankowski said.

And, Eyang Garrison of the Food Research and Action Center said, “We would really love to see the program continue to grow and expand.”

With the addition of U46 this school year, Breakfast in the Classroom now benefits 15 school districts, funded by the Walmart Foundation, according to the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom.

U46 schools that participate in Breakfast in the Classroom include Gifford, Sheridan and Laurel Hill, as well as Channing Memorial, Garfield, Huff, McKinley and Washington elementary schools in Elgin. They also include Parkwood Elementary School in Hanover Park and Ellis Middle School in Elgin.

Roundtable participants included representatives from U46, the Elgin Teachers Association, Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom (including both the Food Research and Action Center and the School Nutrition Foundation), Walmart, the Midwest Dairy Council and the Illinois Hunger Coalition.

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