After a springtime pilot program in several elementary schools, Cranston Public Schools, in conjunction with food service provider Sodexo, is rolling out the new Breakfast in the Classrooms program at all nine of the Title I elementary schools across the city.
"We have selected the most needy schools first, our Title I schools, a designation based in part on the number of students there who receive free or reduced lunches," said Ray Votto, the school district's chief operating officer and liaison to Sodexo. "The program was piloted at Edgewood Highland, George J. Peters and Eden Park Elementary Schools last spring. "Studies show that students who eat school breakfast increase their math and reading scores as well as improve their speed and memory in cognitive tests. According to this school breakfast study, conducted by the Food Research and Action Center, children who eat breakfast at school, closer to test-taking time, perform better.
Sodexo General Manager Lynne Conca explained that the new Breakfast in the Classroom Program differs only slightly from the Universal Breakfast Program the district previously had, with the difference being the location of breakfast. The non-Title I schools in Cranston currently participate in the Universal Breakfast Program.
The Universal Breakfast Programs occur in the school cafeteria before school begins and offers students the opportunity to self-select items from a variety of breakfast items, including cereal, muffins, fruits, juices and milk. The breakfast is free and is eaten in the cafeteria before proceeding to the classrooms. The program is optional.
The Breakfast in the Classroom Program occurs in the classrooms with breakfast provided for every student, whether or not they choose to take it. The program is not mandatory for every student. There is a monthly menu provided by Sodexo, which states what the days' offering is, so that parents can plan accordingly.
"The classroom teachers are provided with carrier bags delivered from the cafeteria by Sodexo staff, containing either a hot or a cold item for the day. The teachers can either choose to assign roles to the students for managing the program or they can manage it themselves," said Conca. "They unzip the bag. There is a roster inside with the students' names and they check it off if they are participating in the program. At the same time this is occurring, the students can be working."Once the 15-minute breakfast time has ended, the trash is tied up and placed outside the classroom, where it is picked up and taken away by school custodians. The day then begins as usual. Conca went on to say that the items on the menu are no different from the program in previous years, with the exception of cereal, which has been eliminated. During the 15-minute breakfast period, Votto said that the teachers are making good use of the extra instructional time. Both Conca and Votto agreed that the program is virtually self-sufficient for older classes from grades two through six."We did see some issues with the kindergarten and first grade classrooms initially when we did the rollout with the pilot program last year, but this year they were really able to roll right into it," said Votto.The main objective of the Breakfast in the Classroom program is to ensure students have a chance to start the day with a full stomach, said Janice Ruggieri, School Committee member and head of the district's Wellness Committee."The main object of this program is and always will be to make sure that children who may not be able to get breakfast at home have a chance to start their day right," she said.A group of parents at Edgewood Highland Elementary School has been less than pleased with the rollout of the program, due to the food items that have been offered, specifically items such as prepackaged cereal bars and cinnamon buns, and what they feel was a lack of communication during the roll-out of the program itself."This just kind of happened and we found out at our house when my son came home and said he had an apple Danish for breakfast," said Heather Chapman, a parent who is also a pediatrician at Hasbro Children's Hospital. "School is a place for us to model healthy, appropriate food-related behavior. We shouldn't just accept the minimum federal standards; we should be modeling and leading the charge.”Chapman’s concern, along with other parents, also surrounds the optional nature of the program, which they believe could contribute to the nation’s obesity epidemic."It's unrealistic to say that many of these children will not be eating two breakfasts. They say that my sons don't have to eat it, but you can't expect a 5- and 7-year-old to have such self-control when everyone else around them is eating it. These foods are like treats to them," said Adrienne D'Arconte, another parent at Edgewood Highland Elementary.Ruggieri stands by the fact that the program is optional and meets the Federal Nutrition Guidelines. She urged parents to communicate with their children to understand the nature of the program.The group of parents at Edgewood is also concerned about how the success of the program is being assessed.
"We understand the reason for the changeover to Breakfast in the Classroom is because the district felt that the Universal Breakfast Program was not capturing the children that it was targeted to: those who were not eating breakfast at home. And we all agree that breakfast is important for success," Chapman said. "However, is this change doing what it is supposed to do? How are they assessing that? It's a waste of food and a waste of money to allot breakfast for every child."
Votto disagrees and said participation has increased markedly.
Recent statistics for Edgewood Highland Elementary School show that prior to the pilot of Breakfast in the Classroom at the school, 33 percent of students there were eating the Universal Breakfast. After the pilot, 75 percent of the students participated. At Peters Elementary, 15 percent participated before the pilot, whereas 61 percent participated after. At Eden Park, participation was 20 percent prior and 62 percent once the program was implemented.
In order to monitor the program's success, the school district will be tracking indicators such as attendance, visits to the school nurse, participation in class, disciplinary incidents, student performance and financial impact. Implementation of the Breakfast in the Classroom program at additional schools will be staggered.
"It's too difficult to implement the program all at once at all of the schools. Therefore, we are phasing it in. At the conclusion of this year we will re-examine the program and decide on which schools will be implemented for next year,” Votto said.
Superintendent Dr. Judith Lundsten is pleased with the rollout of the program thus far.
"I recently walked through the program at one of the schools. The program was very well organized, very well thought out," she said.
Both Votto and Lundsten agree that the program is constantly evolving, as are the Federal Guidelines for Nutrition. Votto called it a “work in progress.” New changes are on the horizon for the Breakfast in the Classroom Program, including more hot items thanks to roaster ovens that the district has been able to purchase.
Ruggieri, in conjunction with the Wellness Committee, hopes to continue to work through the concerns of the parents at Edgewood Highland Elementary School. She noted that although change cannot happen overnight, the program would continue to change as it is assessed.
"This free and voluntary program has already made changes with the assistance of parental feedback such as offering more food choices,” she said. “The Wellness Committee will continue to grow the program as it matures to ensure we are meeting the needs of all children in the Cranston School System."