Blue Ridge Elementary School, embracing the idea that no child should go to class hungry, is offering free breakfast to its nearly 530 students through the remainder of the school year.
“Some of our kids go as many as 18 hours without food,” said Ashe County Schools Coordinator of Child Nutrition Angie Thompson. “If a child eats dinner at six the night before, and doesn’t eat until noon the following day, that’s a long stretch. These students are missing out on key nutrients needed for health and academic success.”
BRES and the Child Nutrition Program implemented the Universal School Breakfast Program Jan. 3 and it runs through the end of the school year. Its ambitious aim is to ensure no child begins their school day with an empty belly.
“We care about the health and well-being of all our students,” said Thompson. “Ensuring each that each child eats a healthy breakfast every day is a small, but significant, step we can take as part of investing in their future.”
According to information provided by Thompson, “Students who eat breakfast have a longer attention span, demonstrate better behavior in the classroom, have improved attendance and less tardiness, and make fewer trips to the school nurse. Studies have also shown that children who eat breakfast on a regular basis are less likely to be overweight.”
Thompson said Blue Ridge devised the idea last fall, under former Principal Rick Powers.
“When (new principal) John Gregory took over, we ran it by him, and he said, ‘Go for it,” said Thompson. “The program really does have the full support of the faculty and administration.”
Success so far
“We have already seen an increase in the number of students who eat breakfast in our cafeteria,” said Thompson. “I know many of our parents are thankful for this opportunity.”
Thompson said last week, cafteria staff had already seen an increase in the number of children taking advantage of the Universal Breakfast, with a daily average of 318 students eating breakfast. Before the program’s launch, BRES averaged roughly 275 students eating breakfast.
“The number of kids eating breakfast is creeping higher, but it’s still a work in progress,” said Thompson.
Thompson said she hopes the program will ‘break-even.’
“The reimbursement, due to the percentage of children at Blue Ridge that are eligible for free and reduced meals, is higher,” said Thompson. “The way its (reimbursement) structured, the more students who take advantage of breakfast, brings the program closer to break-even.”
Thompson said inital faculty concerns have also been allayed.
“Our faculty has been great putting together the program,” said Thompson. “There were concerns that students would show up for class with their uneaten food, and that does happen. But it’s really not been the distraction we thought it might be.”
Thompson said cafeteria staff have also bought into the program.
“It’s extra work for them, but they’ve been great about it,” said Thompson.
Thompson said the early increase can be attributed to better promotion of the Universal Breakfast program to students and parents.
“A lot of parents can’t believe we’re offering free anything right now,” said Thompson. “Once they realize the Universal Breakfast is for real, and won’t cost them anything, I think we’ll see higher participation rates.”
Thompson said the key to boosting student participation, though, is providing meals students enjoy.
“We’re asking a lot of kids what they want,” said Thompson. “We’re doing breakfast promotions and tastings, and trying to offer meals students enjoy.”
School meals make a difference
Thompson said all school meals meet federal nutrition regulations based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Breakfast are designed to provide one quarter, or more, of the daily recommended nutrients children need for growth, development, and good health. School breakfast provide protein, vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron and seek to minimize fat, sugar, and sodium.
Students who participate in the National School Breakfast and School Lunch Programs consume more servings of milk, fruit and vegetables and fewer servings of soda and fruit drinks, according to Thompson.
“Families depend on school meals to provide nourishing meals each day for their children. Students depend on school meals to provide the nutrition they need to succeed.”
All Ashe County Schools serve breakfast every school day that include a large variety of entrees, fruit or 100 percent juice, and low fat or fat free milk. Bread items are at least 51 percent whole wheat. Multigrain cereals are offered. Breakfast bars are made with whole grain oats and rice and biscuits are made from scratch.
Thompson said an important focus of Child Nutrition is focused on reducing sugar content in breakfast items.
This is a pilot program for Blue Ridge and, if successful, may be available to other schools in the future. Right now, there are kinks to be worked out including bus schedules and late arrivals.
“We’re testing it through the end of the year, and seeing how it goes,” said Thompson. “If it works, and we’re not losing money, we may even expand it out to other schools around the county.”
To find out more about the School Breakfast Program in Ashe County Schools, contact Angie Thompson, Child Nutrition Coordinator, at 336-246-7175.