Kindergartener Olivia opens a string cheese provided by the Breakfast in the Classroom program at Carl Cozier Elementary School. // Photo by Hailey Hoffman
As eight o’clock rolls around, Amy McAuliffe’s kindergarten class trickles in through the door of Carl Cozier Elementary School. McAuliffe, a Western graduate, has been a teacher for 25 years. She said the kids are more productive, happy and focused now that breakfast is offered in their classroom.
Dana Smith, communications manager at Bellingham Public Schools, said the new breakfast program is available in Bellingham elementary schools that receive Title I funding, which provides financial aid to schools with a certain percentage of low-income families. Breakfast is free at six Title I schools. These are Alderwood, Birchwood, Carl Cozier, Cordata, Roosevelt, and Sunnyland.
Previously, some schools in the district had offered a more limited morning snack program, Smith said. Breakfast was never offered after the bell, though. Next year, a law will go into effect requiring breakfast to be offered at the start of the school day.
In the mornings at Carl Cozier, McAuliffe asks each child if they’re hungry.
Once backpacks were stowed away, some kids enjoyed blueberry muffin loaf, while others went for string cheese. After breakfast, the kindergarteners started on a variety of activities like coloring or board games.
“We knew that breakfast after the bell was being recognized as a best practice across the country,” Jessica Sankey, wellness director for Bellingham Public Schools, said.
A few years back, Bellingham Public Schools started talking about expanding breakfast for students. Initially there were some concerns, Sankey said.
“Somebody said, ‘I’m really concerned that this is going to take away from learning time,’ as he was eating… and another principal pointed out, ‘We’re sitting here having a meeting. We’re eating breakfast, it’s working,’” Sankey recalled.
After that, all principals involved in the discussions showed interest, Sankey said.
Cereal as a breakfast option didn’t work out as well since teachers and custodians finding the breakfast staple to be a little too messy, Sankey said. She described a “milk waterfall” spilling down the stairs at Cordata Elementary.
Now, breakfast options rotate on a five-day cycle according to Smith. Tuesday’s breakfast, for example, includes whole grain pretzels, string cheese, fruit and milk, according to a menu provided by Smith.
Sankey said before breakfast in the classroom, most kids eating breakfast at school were kids who were eligible for free or reduced meals, which created stigma. Having breakfast available in the classroom helps keep individual students from feeling singled out, Sankey said. Now, most kids eat some breakfast after the bell.
Breakfast programs become more complex at non-Title I schools due to a variety of issues including funding and billing models, Smith said. Still, the district is looking into expanding the program, according to both Sankey and Smith.
Bellingham Public Schools opened a new central kitchen in January. Sankey said the central kitchen will enable more house-made options as it expands to serve more schools.
“We’re looking forward to serving more whole foods, more scratch-made food,” Sankey said.