school meals

Celebrating National School Breakfast Week with Senator Becca Balint

Food Connects celebrated National School Breakfast Week during the first week of March by inviting Vermont State Senator Becca Balint to join Food Connects’ Farm to School Team, Sheila Humphreys and Kate Venne, for breakfast with Allegra Carignan’s Kindergarten class at Green Street School.  

Humphreys and Venne met Senator Balint at the school at 8:00 am, just as students were finding their way into classrooms to join their classmates for breakfast.  Green Street School serves Breakfast After the Bell in all classrooms, and breakfast participation at Green Street is the highest of all the schools in Windham County, with a whopping 89% of students participating!

As the special guests entered the classroom, they were greeted warmly by Ms. Carignan and her curious students. At Green Street School, breakfast is served in classrooms at the start of each day. The Food Connects team and Senator Becca Balint sat down to a meal of freshly baked blueberry muffins, cheese sticks, and fruit juice with a group of very sweet 5-year-olds.

Over breakfast, students reported that their favorite breakfast at school is bagels, except for the one student at the table who usually eats breakfast at home, and his favorite breakfast is Lucky Charms. Other commonly served breakfast items include hard boiled eggs, fresh toast, cereal, and scrambled eggs. The students chatted about their pets while Ms. Carignan circulated around the room greeting everyone and collecting their lunch orders. As the group finished breakfast, they joined their classmates on the rug to participate in the morning meeting and sing a song to start their day.

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After breakfast, Humphreys and Venne retired to the school library to talk with Senator Balint about the importance of school breakfast and other school meals. School breakfast, and particularly Breakfast After the Bell and Universal Meals, are a huge benefit to children in the Brattleboro community. When students are able to start their day with a nourishing breakfast that is available in the classroom to every student and doesn’t require a child to have to choose between eating breakfast at school in the morning or playing on the playground at the start of the day, more children eat breakfast which means improved behavior, improvements in school climate, more students who start the day ready to learn, and a reduction in nurse visits. In addition, Brattleboro Town Schools have Universal Meals, which is an enormous help to children in Brattleboro because it eliminates stigma and makes nourishing meals accessible to all students. Additionally, increased participation in school meal programs leads to increased financial viability, which ultimately results in improved food quality—commonly referred to as the Virtuous Cycle of School Meals!  

Have you eaten breakfast or lunch at a school lately? Food Connects and the Brattleboro Town Schools meal program encourages you to try it! In fact, Chef Ali West and Humphreys went to Montpelier a couple of weeks ago for School Nutrition Day at the State House and invited all of the legislators from WSESU to have breakfast or lunch in a school in their district. If you’d like to try a meal at a local school, just be sure to call ahead and let them know you’re coming!

Breakfast at Elm Hill Elementary

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!

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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