It’s a chilly Tuesday morning and students at Carrollton Elementary School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, file off their buses and into the cafeteria in orderly lines. Gloves come off of little hands as little feet march up to a cart where the children are handed a hot breakfast to carry to their classrooms and eat at their desks.
It’s all part of the school’s new Breakfast in the Classroom program, and during National School Breakfast Week , which runs from March 4 to 8, teachers, parents, students and staff are coming together to celebrate the most important meal of the day.
“Good morning! Good morning!” the food service personnel call out as they hand each student a bag packed with a turkey sausage biscuit, an apple, a carton of milk and orange juice. (There’s also a cereal option for kids with food intolerances.)
One student in a dark blue parka holds the warm bag up to his nose, closes his eyes and breathes deep. “Yum!” he says.
“I have no children of my own, and it just warms my heart to see the happy young faces when they get their breakfasts,” says Ann Peltier, who has worked in the Carrollton Elementary School cafeteria for 35 years. “They give you all sorts of hugs! It’s wonderful.”
Carrollton Elementary School is part of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), one of fifteen school districts in the nation participating in the Breakfast in the Classroom initiative, a partnership between the Food Research and Action Center, the National Association of Elementary School Principals Foundation, the National Education Association Health Information Network, and the School Nutrition Foundation.
Research has shown that providing breakfast at school is essential – too many children arrive at school hungry, having had no breakfast at home. When their stomachs are empty, their attention spans shorten, their energy levels plummet, their productivity wanes, and their learning suffers. But when students are able to eat the most important meal of the day, they have sharper memory, improved focus and behavior, and higher scores on tests.
“When you feed the body, you feed the mind,” says Carrollton Elementary Principal Brian Gallbraith.
The federally-funded School Breakfast Program was designed to provide disadvantaged students with a nutritious breakfast, but less than half of children who are eligible for the free or reduced-cost breakfast were actually eating it.
That’s because school breakfast programs typically require children to eat in the cafeteria before school, apart from their peers. A lot of the children feel singled out and self-conscious — they’re worried about being labeled as “low income.”
Timing is another deterrent. Many school breakfast programs take place before the start of the school day, and if the bus is late or the carpool gets caught in traffic, the opportunity for breakfast is missed.
Breakfast in the Classroom removes those barriers. First, it’s available to everyone – no matter their income level. Second, it’s eaten after the opening bell when students are seated at their desks. This makes it possible for all children in the class to participate – even those running a little late will still have time to take advantage of the “grab and go” bags. They eat their breakfasts while the teacher takes attendance, collects homework or teaches a short lesson plan.
Michelle Charity says her third graders at Carrollton Elementary are more productive and less listless now that they are all eating a nutritious meal at the start of the day.
“They’re ready for the day, and they can concentrate all morning because they’re not watching the clock and waiting for lunch,” she says. “It gets their mind active and fuels it for learning.”
Eight-year-old Emani Nichols agrees. “I love having breakfast in the classroom,” she says. “It gives my brain enough energy for thinking.”