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Breakfast Increases Attendance and Focus

For the district-wide rollout of a universal breakfast program, Mingo County School Nutrition staff tested out multiple strategies to see what would work best for getting students to eat breakfast. The district participates in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program and administrators have seen the benefits of serving healthier food to students. Over the years the food service staff has continuously made changes to encourage more students to eat the healthy school meals.

Kay Maynard, Director of School Nutrition, realized that a traditional, before school breakfast program wasn’t quite right for the high school students. “High school students do better eating a little bit later because when they come to school they want to socialize- they do not just roll out of bed and want to eat right away,” Maynard reports. When she moved the high school breakfast period to after first period, teachers and principals noticed the difference. Maynard believes that giving teenagers a 10 or 15 minute break between first and second period gives them an opportunity to refuel just as the first hunger pangs are kicking in. The high school now has stations in the hallways where students can stop for breakfast including items such as milk, fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, or whole grain pancakes. And they are allowed to eat the breakfast while they socialize; in classrooms, the cafeteria or the hallways.

Maynard has found that for middle school and elementary school, sitting down for breakfast together as a class is more successful, either in the classroom or the cafeteria. This year schools in Mingo County made slight adjustments to the schedule to allow for breakfast in the classroom as instruction begins. Maynard shared that students and teachers quickly adjusted to the change in the schedule and extra trash cans placed in classrooms and hallways help ensure for a quick, post-breakfast clean up.

The county-wide breakfast menu features portable items and the student favorite is the whole-wheat biscuit breakfast sandwich. Cereal and yogurt is offered a few times a week. Through a grant from the American Dairy Association, portable coolers were provided for all classrooms participating in Breakfast in the Classroom. The wellness committee heavily promoted the expanded breakfast program to teachers and principals at the beginning of the school year, informing them of the positive correlation between academics and a healthy breakfast. The USDA fresh fruits and vegetables grant combined with a nutrition education piece allows students to sample and learn about new fruits and vegetables. Recently students enjoyed cantaloupe, fresh grapes, honeydew, and strawberries.

Since expanding to a universal breakfast program in September, 2011, the district has seen a reduction in out-of-school suspensions by 143 days, zero expulsion hearings, an overall attendance increase, and a decrease in the number of students moved to an alternative school. Throughout the 2011-2012 school year, more than 71 percent of students participated in the school lunch program and more than 73 percent participated in the breakfast program. “Teachers and principals indicate that students are much more focused and ready for instruction at the beginning of the day, thanks to our breakfast program,” shared Superintendent Randy Keathley.