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Liberal High School Tackles Student Hunger with a Grab-and-Go Breakfast

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At Liberal High School in Liberal, Kansas, located in the southwest corner of the state, Director of Nutrition Services Connie Vogts knew there were a lot of hungry kids. Among the largely Hispanic population of 1,200 students, more than 70 percent receive free and reduced-priced lunches—and that number increases annually. The school has been improving the quality and freshness of its food for several years, but when it came to breakfast, many students weren’t ready to bite.

“We have a lot of kids who have food insecurity at home—they’re getting themselves up, maybe their parents are already at work, and there might not be any food at home,” Vogts said. “Students really will eat breakfast if it’s made available to them. And they’re hungry, just not at 7:30 am.”

Giving breakfast a second chance

To ensure that breakfast participation would be addressed at Liberal High School, Vogts added it to the school’s Action Plan, a component of the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program. “Having the mentality of being a ‘Healthy School’ with the Alliance helped get everybody on the same page,” said Vogts.

In November 2013, Vogts applied for a grant to start a Second Chance Breakfast between the first and second hours of school. Some teachers were concerned about allowing students having food in the classroom, but ultimately, everyone knew that nourished kids learn better. The school was awarded the $3,000 grant, which was used to purchase a breakfast kiosk and a laptop to track student identification numbers.

Beginning in February 2014, students could grab their bagged breakfast from the kiosk in the common area at 8:45 am, and head to class before the bell. As Vogts explained it, “It’s a five-minute frenzy of activity.”

Full bellies, full attention

To help promote the program, graphic arts students made posters, the video production class created commercials, and the student newspaper ran a story. At first, breakfast was served only from the kiosk, but students were so enthusiastic about the program, Liberal High School soon added three lines in the cafeteria. Before long, the school was serving nearly 400 breakfasts per day.

And just one month after it started, the impact was clear. In April 2013, for example, Liberal served 2,487 breakfasts: 2,292 free, 123 reduced rate and 72 paid. One year later, the school served 7,373 breakfasts: 5,919 free, 720 reduced rate and 735 paid. Not only did the overall numbers increase significantly, but the number of paid meals increased 10-fold, indicating that Liberal High School is reaching a new group of students that hadn’t previously eaten breakfast at school.

Anecdotally, the program can claim victory in the classroom as well. Teachers notice that students who eat breakfast are more focused and eat fewer snacks from the vending machines. Although it’s too soon to look at the program’s overall effect, data show slight improvements on attendance rates and student behavior from the 2013-2014 school year compared with the previous year.

Vogts is thrilled with the program’s success—best of all, teachers have supported it and haven’t complained about distractions or messiness in the classroom while students fuel up with yogurt, whole grain-rich muffins, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fresh fruit, and string cheese.

Next year, Vogts would like to see even higher participation and increased revenue, including piloting the program in one of the district junior high schools. “If we can provide a second opportunity for breakfast—whatever the student’s circumstance is,” she said, “this gives them the nutrition they need to get them through to lunchtime.”

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