KALAMAZOO, MI — Like most K-12 teachers, Ashley McDonald extolls the virtues of a good breakfast.
Unlike most teachers, she doesn’t have to worry whether her students will get that meal: McDonald serves breakfast to to them herself, thanks to the universal breakfast program in Kalamazoo Public Schools.
“A lot of our students don’t have breakfast or didn’t have a substantial dinner the night before, so they come in very hungry,” said McDonald, a first-grade teacher at Kalamazoo’s Woodward School for Technology and Design. “I think you’d see a big difference (in student behavior) if we didn’t do this.”
KPS has long served breakfast to low-income children through the same program that provides federally subsidized school lunches. But about six years ago, the program was expanded in some schools to include all children whether or not they qualified for the subsidized lunch program.
This fall, for the first time, the universal breakfast program is in place at all 17 KPS elementaries and next year, it is expected to be phased in at the middle-school level. The money comes for the district’s breakfast/lunch program budget versus the general operating fund.
The bottom line: The district served 405,648 breakfasts in 2006-07 compared to 678,609 in 2011-12, a 67 percent increase, according to a recent presentation to the Kalamazoo school board by Christine Haller, the district’s food-service manager.
Research has shown that children who have breakfast perform better in school both in terms of academics and behavior, have lower rates of absence and tardiness, and are less likely to be sick, Haller told the board.
“It’s important,” KPS Michael Rice said. “As children get their physical needs met, it helps with their cognitive development. … We’re part of a national effort to get children to eat breakfast.”
Haller also said that providing breakfast to all children takes away the social stigma attached to feeding only low-income children and provides an opportunity to teach children about the importance of a good breakfast and what a nutritious breakfast looks like.
It also makes it easier logistically: When only low-income children received breakfast, it required those students to go to the cafeteria as soon as they arrived at school and quickly eat a breakfast before the start of classes. Now, breakfast is served in the classroom and early arrival at school is no longer necessary.
McDonald starts her day by putting breakfast at each child’s desk. This past Monday, it consisted of a carton of milk, an individual box of Apple Jacks cereal and a fruit cup.
She also put out a list of spelling worksheet for each child, so they could do schoolwork while they ate.
“Take a bite and work, take a bite and work,” she encouraged her students as they settled into their chairs.
McDonald said she lets the children keep the food at their desks until they finish.
“It’s really important to me that they have full bellies,” she said. “I don’t want anyone complaining that they’re hungry.”