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NYC’s Breakfast in the Classroom Program Off to a Healthy Start

December 4, 2009

Studies have shown that students tend to perform better when they eat breakfast.  Although all students in New York City are offered a free breakfast at school, participation rates are generally low.  In an attempt to get more kids to eat breakfast, New York City schools began serving breakfast to students in their classrooms.  The small pilot program has been slowly expanding throughout the city.  Last week, the United Federation of Teachers published a story about the success the program has seen in its publication New York Teacher.

Breakfast in the Classroom a hit

by Dorothy Callaci

Nov 26, 2009 1:47 PM

Starting the day right

More and more city school children are enjoying a “snap, crackle and pop” start to their school day as the Breakfast in the Classroom campaign picks up speed.

At schools like PS 102 and PS 146 in East Harlem, and 145 other schools citywide,  the day begins in every classroom with a free breakfast of juice or fruit, cereal, milk, a bread item such as a bagel, roll or muffin, or a dairy item such as yogurt or cheese.

PS 102 teacher Rosalind Orman called the program “a wonderful way to begin the day” as she distributed a breakfast bag to each of her 1st- and 2nd-graders. “Eating like a family brings a peacefulness and grounds them,” she said, “and it establishes good health patterns.”

In the gym of the pre-K-5 school, PTA President Jeanette Irizarry watched as teachers handed out the breakfasts from large insulated bags assigned to each class before heading for their classrooms. She applauded the program as “a healthy start to the day and a chance for students to have time together.”

The Department of Education, in conjunction with the Department of Health, introduced Breakfast in the Classroom as a pilot program in January 2008 with plans to expand the program to 300 more schools. It is part of DOH efforts to address health disparities in high-need neighborhoods with high rates of childhood asthma and obesity.

It has been catching on quickly. A year ago, PS 146 started the program in two classes that expanded to 18 by June and is now a flourishing schoolwide program.

It has been catching on quickly. A year ago, PS 146 started the program in two classes that expanded to 18 by June and is now a flourishing schoolwide program.

The free breakfast campaign is based on scientific research that links children’s nutrition with improved academic performance and psychological well-being. Studies of students who regularly eat breakfast in their classrooms indicate improved attendance, punctuality and behavior, as well as improved cognitive function, attention, memory and achievement on standardized tests. In addition, the program may also reduce obesity, a serious health issue among children in the country today.

Carol Harrison, UFT District 9 representative, reported that district representatives in the Bronx are working to bring the breakfast program into all their schools and are meeting with the UFT, the DOE and the DOH to make it happen.

UFT Health and Safety Associate Lisa Lau credits the flexibility of the breakfast program with its success. Working with a “breakfast team” that should include an administrator, cafeteria manager, custodian, parent coordinator and chapter leader, each school develops its own rules for how the program works, including distribution of the breakfasts that are packed in insulated transporter bags, labeled for each classroom and delivered daily, as well as classroom management during the breakfast period.

SchoolFood, which serves 19,672 free breakfasts daily, supports menu flexibility to accommodate such issues as student allergies or teacher objections to having students peeling fruits like oranges.

At PS 102, 2nd-grade teacher Aliza Trujillo prefers the “grab and go” system, which means she meets her class in the gym, hands out breakfast packages and then proceeds with her class to their room. She uses the 10-minute breakfast period to “ease into the day.”

“The children can’t handle notebooks while eating,” she said. “They work hard all day so they don’t need to be doing other things.”

Trujillo noted that last year there were always a few late and hungry students — “I couldn’t bear to have them not eat” — for whom she kept snacks. But then the rest of the class wanted the snacks, too.

In other classrooms at PS 102, students ate breakfast listening to stories, or music or while working on a math problem. It’s the teacher’s choice.

The UFT has joined the DOH in promoting the Breakfast in the Classroom campaign. If your school wants to participate, or for more information, contact Lisa Lau at 1-212-598-7763. More information is also available online at Click School Food and then Breakfast in the Classroom.

Find the article here.

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