Every morning the classrooms at Jane Addams School are turned into mini cafeterias, giving all of the students the opportunity to eat the most important meal of the day.
A breakfast made up of skim milk, reduced-sugar cereal, juice and a whole-grain snack is offered at no cost to any and all of the students, roughly 800 kids at Jane Addams at every school day.
Part of the Palatine Township Elementary School District 15’s universal free breakfast pilot program, the food is available in the classroom for a 15-minute period before the first bell rings at 7:55 a.m.
District 15 launched the pilot program, ‘Breakfast in the Classroom’ at Jane Addams on Wednesday, Aug. 29.
“We’re bringing breakfast to the students,” District 15 School Nutrition Services Director Bobbie Desprat said, “It’s a wonderful way to get kids to eat.”
In its first week ‘Breakfast in the Classroom' fed 500 students, more than 60-percent of the K-6 school each day. According to Desprat, that's a 500-percent increase from the number of kids who ate breakfast in the cafeteria at Jane Addams last year.
“All of the studies show students who eat breakfast perform better in school,” said Desprat. The bottom line is, breakfast is beneficial to students, Desprat said, “It increases cognitive function, kids pay attention more, and retain more information.”
According to Desprat and the school’s staff, the benefits of ‘Breakfast in the Classroom’ were seen right away. “From the first day we noticed it was a lot quieter in the classrooms,” Desprat said, “The kids who want breakfast eat and the children who don’t read, work on homework, or catch up with their classmates.”
The universal free breakfast program, pushed by the USDA is said to improve grades, increase attendance, reduce tardiness and cut down on the number of trips to the nurse’s office in the morning.
“It’s a win-win,” Desprat said ‘Breakfast in the Classroom’ gives students a chance to get to class, settle in and fuel up for the day. “It becomes part of the instructional process in class,” said Desprat.
Eager to expand the 'Breakfast in the Classroom' program to other schools in the district, Desprat said it's still too early to say when or if that will happen. The district plans to monitor the program and tweak it as they go. Desprat said, "My assumption is it will evolve as it goes and then we can see if other schools or principals are interested."
According to Desprat, the pilot program does not cost taxpayers any money on the local level. “It’s self-supporting, self-sufficient,” Desprat said, “We would not take money from the education fund.” The federal government reimburses the district for every free and reduced price meal served. Money from the government and money spent in the school’s cafeteria on à la carte items and second lunches fund ‘Breakfast in the Classroom.’
The district specifically chose Jane Addams School for the pilot program, “It was the best fit, the obvious choice,” said Desprat.
According to Jane Addams’ 2011 state report card, 59-percent of the school’s students come from low-income families, that’s nearly almost double District 15’s average of 31.9-percent.
With the highest level of poverty in the district, Jane Addams is also the only school that is accustomed to eating in the classrooms.
For the third year in a row, Jane Addams received a grant for the fresh fruit and vegetable program, providing students with a mid-afternoon snack twice a week. With students, teachers and staff already familiar with the process of eating in the classroom, Desprat said Jane Addams was “the perfect choice.”
Traditional free and reduced-price breakfast programs that used to be offered at Jane Addams are currently available at other District 15 schools but only to student who meet the federal guidelines. With the traditional National School Lunch and School Breakfast program, students from families at or below 130-percent of the poverty level qualify for free meals and student at or below 185-percent qualify for reduced-price meals.
The pilot program at Jane Addams is different because the free breakfast is available without restrictions, to all students and instead of having to make a trip to the cafeteria in the morning; breakfast food is available inside the classroom.