Introducing the new universal breakfast program in the Sedalia School District 200 last fall has proven successful, as the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education awarded the district the gold award in its tier for the Missouri School Breakfast Challenge.
The School Breakfast Challenge, according to a DESE news release, is “a joint partnership between the Department, the Missouri Food Bank Association and the Midwest Dairy Council, (which) aims to increase daily breakfast participation in school districts across the state. All Missouri public, charter and private school districts participating in the national school lunch program were automatically entered in the challenge and were categorized into one of five tiers based on district enrollment.”
“What it means to me is that those groups involved and their extra time and effort didn’t go unnoticed by the local administration, as well as DESE state administration,” said Superintendent Brad Pollitt. “I think it was a major change and it went really well and lots of people were a part of that. My appreciation goes to the food service staff, custodians, staff and administration at the schools because it took a team effort to pull this off. It was a pretty big undertaking.”
Sedalia 200 was the winner in the tier of schools with a student population between 3,500 to 9,999. Winners were the top three schools in each tier that had the largest increase in breakfast meals served per student from the 2012-13 school year to the 2013-14 school year.
“I think anytime you get recognized as the top school in the state in any category we’re always proud of that,” said Assistant Superintendent Steve Triplett. “It’s just one more thing we continue to do well here in Sedalia. It shows our staff genuinely cares about the all around wellness of our children, not just academically and meeting test scores, we care about their needs and everything that goes along with having those kids in our schools.”
The district also heard positive feedback from staff and students.
“(The first year) went really well. We served lots of kids breakfast,” said Rowena Nickell, director of nutrition services. “During School Nutrition Employee Appreciation Week in May the children wrote notes to their kitchen staff and lunch ladies, saying they were so happy to eat breakfast and they were glad everyone got to eat it because sometimes their friends couldn’t afford to eat breakfast. I thought that was pretty insightful for children.”
Statistics are still being figured regarding the specific success of last year’s program, but Pollitt, Triplett and Nickell all said they heard from teachers who were noticing improvements in the classroom.
“We haven’t gotten all those statistics in, we’re still evaluating tardies, but attendance went up district-wide especially at the elementary schools,” Pollitt said. “It increased about .5 percent, and we can’t contribute just the breakfast program to that but it is one of the contributing factors. We felt it improved attendance, lessened tardies, and we’re going to continue to work on that.”
“There were fewer trips to the nurse,” Nickell said. “Often that’s a mid-morning trip because their tummy hurts because they’re hungry. Discipline issues also went down.”
“The students are really being able to focus more,” Triplett said. “Teachers and nurses always have snacks available for kids and that went out the door with this because those kids weren’t really hungry. They had a full stomach up until lunch. We were able to do more with instruction, time on task.”
At this point both Pollitt and Nickell said there aren’t any plans for change to the program for the 2014-15 school year, but they will evaluate procedures as the year progresses.
“Now we have a year under our belt, but we’re always looking to improve our programs,” Pollitt said. “We’ll evaluate our procedures, and I think it was going pretty smooth at the end of the year last year.”
The district received $3,000 for being the gold award winners in its tier. Pollitt said the district hasn’t discussed what the money will be used for, but he said it will have something to do with the food service program.
“I was raised with the thought that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I firmly believe that,” Nickell said. “It’s just really true. The fact we can feed that many more children each day is really rewarding that we have a hand in making that many more smiles that day and fewer upset tummies because they were hungry.”