I arrived at Elm Hill elementary school in Springfield, VT early on Wednesday morning. Children and families were beginning to trickle inside, some headed to early morning recess and others headed to the cafeteria for breakfast. My mission? Learn more about the school’s efforts to increase food access by moving breakfast after the bell!
Elm Hill hosts children from kindergarten through second grade, after which time they head across town to Union Street School for grades three through five. Elm Hill sits at what appears to be the top of Springfield, overlooking the city. The building is full of light and adorned with colorful student art. Principal Dr. Christine Pereira and her staff greet students with a warm welcome as they arrive for the day.
This year, the school has implemented new strategies to support positive student behavior. Classrooms have adopted the practice of being “responsive,” working with students to create and uphold classroom expectations throughout the day. Another aspect of this new programming has been to increase the time period during which students can get breakfast in the morning.
In the past, students chose between recess and breakfast before the start of the school day. When you’re 6 years old, you may deem playing with your friends more important than having breakfast. Fair enough. But, as we know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A student who hasn’t eaten is much more likely to be distracted or distracting to their peers. Christine and her staff understand breakfast to be an essential part of their students’ ability to focus, participate and learn. Christine emphasized, “I didn’t want there to be a barrier for my students to access food.”
So, this school year, breakfast has been extended into the first part of the school day. Teachers may choose to send students to the cafeteria for breakfast or host the meal in the classroom as they give announcements and begin the day. In this way, teachers are able to make the new practice work for their classroom. Christine mentioned that while there was some initial hesitation based on previous challenges with breakfast after the bell, the school is now really embracing the new system. More students are participating in breakfast, and students are connecting with each other in new ways.
My visit finished with a tour of the school, including the cafeteria, which was full of light, hanging plants, and happy students. The food program is managed by Anna Tewksbury, of Cafe Services, with two additional full-time staff supporting her. Kids selected from a variety of breakfast options—including scrambled eggs, muffins, fruit, orange juice, and milk. Many students were eating together at round tables, while others trekked back to the classroom with full trays.
While we can’t necessarily attribute it to changes in breakfast programming, student behavior has generally improved this school year. It’s likely that increased access to breakfast has contributed to that in some way. Elm Hill staff has been proactive in their efforts to support student success and their efforts are paying off.
On my way out of town, I happened to run into a few Elm Hill parents at a coffee shop and we got to talking about school breakfast. They expressed support and gratitude for the extended breakfast period this school year, noting that it “feels much more inclusive!” This program helps to relieve the stress that busy parents feel in the morning and promotes community building within the school. In Springfield, food service has embraced these changes and we hope to see this type of programming continue to expand throughout the district.
By: Kate Venne, Farm to School Manager