Schools chief touts breakfast in class
By Maureen Magee, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
John Gibbins / Union-Tribune -- San Diego Charger Luis Castillo looks on as State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell shakes the hand of third-grader William Herrera at Sherman Elementary in Sherman Heights Monday, April 19, 2010.
Monday, April 19, 2010 at 10:42 a.m. -- SAN DIEGO — Sherman Elementary School was the place to be for breakfast Monday morning.
State schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell joined San Diego Charger Luis Castillo, nutrition experts and others sampling fruit, yogurt and burritos as part of a statewide effort to get more students to eat breakfast on campus.
The effort is aimed at getting more children to start their school days with a full belly and to help public schools recoup millions of dollars in federal meal reimbursements.
“Many children aren’t able to eat a healthy breakfast at home these days,” O’Connell said in a statement before the visit. “We can’t afford to let empty stomachs rob students of a full day of learning. School breakfast improves academic performance, supports good health, decreases tardiness and reduces absenteeism. With school breakfast, children are well nourished and ready to learn.”
More than 150,000 low-income students in the county do not participate in the school breakfast program. Last year, California public schools lost $300 million in unclaimed federal meal money due to low participation rates.
In the San Diego Unified School District, a desktop dining program has been held up as a model to be followed and was the reason O’Connell stopped here. Some 29,000 local students at 46 schools eat breakfast at their desks each day.
Serving free breakfast to students whose family incomes qualify them for a government subsidy is nothing new. But traditionally, students had to arrive a half-hour or more to eat meals in the cafeteria. With only 1 of 4 eligible students making it to the cafeteria on time, educators in San Diego decided in 2006 to serve breakfast in class.
Taking advantage of a federal program, the district serves all students, not just those qualifying for free and reduced meals, the in-class breakfasts.
District is a model for Breakfast First Campaign
By Maureen Magee, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
John Gibbins -- Third-grader Karina Inzunza drinks her milk before class Monday at Sherman Elementary School in Sherman Heights.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 --State schools chief Jack O’Connell believes Rogelio Torres’ desk at Sherman Elementary School has everything a third-grader needs: books, binders and breakfast.
Rogelio is among 29,000 students at 46 campuses in the San Diego Unified School District who have breakfast delivered to their desks every morning under a federally funded free-meal program that state leaders want to expand throughout California.
O’Connell, San Diego Charger Luis Castillo, nutrition experts and others visited Sherman Elementary on Monday to sample the morning fare of breakfast burritos, fruit, yogurt and milk and to kick off the Breakfast First Campaign, a three-year effort to boost morning meal service in schools throughout California.
“We know that when students have access to healthy, nutritious meals, their academic performance is better, their attendance is better,” O’Connell said.
More than 150,000 low-income students in San Diego County who are eligible for subsidized school meals do not participate in the federal breakfast program. Statewide, only about one-third of the 3 million eligible students start their school days with the free meal.
Those statistics mean many students are not getting the nutrition they need. It also means public schools are losing out on millions of dollars in federal meal reimbursements.
Last year, California schools lost about $300 million in unclaimed federal meal money due to low participation rates, O’Connell said. Many students who qualify for free meals do not take advantage of the subsidy because of social stigmas or lack of time.
The program was established in 2006 at a handful of San Diego campuses where virtually all students qualify for subsidized meals. At some San Diego high schools, where free-meal participation is the lowest, food carts offer any student a “grab and go” breakfast packaged to eat on the run.
San Diego Unified’s Food Services Department received $35.7 million in federal subsidies last year. That total is expected to jump to $38 million for this school year because of the classroom breakfast program and an increase in students participating in the free-lunch program. The department is autonomous and does not dip into the district’s general fund.
The California Food Policy Advocates, a public policy and advocacy organization, is among the groups praising San Diego Unified’s desktop breakfast program because it destigmatizes free meals by serving every student in a classroom.
A few other districts in the state and nation offer similar programs. Experts say commitment from school leaders is crucial.
Some San Diego educators, including Sherman Principal Eddie Caballero, were worried the program would eat into academics and make for messy classrooms.
“My big concern was losing instructional time. We are held accountable for student achievement,” said Caballero, who reluctantly started serving desktop breakfast this school year.
“The opposite is actually true,” said Caballero, who said breakfast participation has jumped from 30 percent to nearly 100 percent. “Students are getting here earlier. We serve breakfast five minutes before class starts and we take roll call and do a math lesson through the meal.”
●●smf's 2¢: I was one of the "others" at Sherman Elementary on Monday morning for breakfast – representing the State PTA – which is one of the sponsors of the Breakfast First Campaign. Sherman Elementary and San Diego do a couple of things right:
- San Diego has a professional football franchise.
- San Diego Unified School District and the SDUSD Food Services Branch supports the School Breakfast Program -- schools choose whether to participate in Breakfast First, Grab 'n Go meals or Second Chance breakfasts.
- Sherman Elementary is a full immersion dual-language school; all students become bilingual whether Spanish or English is their home language.
Goal 1: Every California public school offers the School Breakfast Program.
Goal 2: All California students participate in the School Breakfast Program.
Goal 3: Every school breakfast promotes health and appeals to students.
Let's work together to put Breakfast First. Email the Breakfast First Campaign with your ideas on how to put Breakfast First. ...
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