DeKALB – Everybody knows the key to a great day at school is a well-balanced breakfast. But children in Illinois schools who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and would in turn receive breakfast before school, still are somehow missing out on the most important meal of the day.
On Jan. 22, DeKalb School District 428 began piloting Second Chance Breakfast, a state-funded program in Tyler, Founders and Littlejohn elementary schools. District Food Service Manager Mike Chamness said the key is to reduce the stigma surrounding cafeteria school breakfast, which historically has been linked to economically disadvantaged children, and instead make eating a morning meal part of the normal school day.
“Studies show that students who eat breakfast have improved classroom performance, higher test scores and better behavior,” Chamness said. “There are several reasons it can be challenging to get students to eat breakfast in the cafeteria before school. Students might not be hungry first thing in the morning, may not arrive in time for breakfast or prefer to socialize and play with their friends before school instead of coming in for breakfast.”
The district was awarded $13,800 by Rise and Shine Illinois and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, a public-private organization working to get more Illinois schoolchildren participating in breakfast programs.
“It is a relief knowing that no student is going to be hungry when they walk into school,” said second-grade bilingual teacher Lucila Lindberg, who teaches at Littlejohn. “Our students will be able to concentrate a little better with food in their bellies.”
Chamness said the grant money was used to buy two breakfast carts for Founders and one each for Littlejohn and Tyler, along with additional trash cans. The district also will continue to offer it’s cafeteria breakfasts before the start of school.
The featured menu for the breakfast carts includes nutritional items such as fresh fruit, string cheese, Craisins, applesauce and juice, as well as whole-grain PopTarts, animal crackers and cereal bars.
Students can grab and go with some grub in between first period and second period and after the bells rings.
“At designated times, students have the opportunity to leave their classroom and receive a grab-and-go breakfast from our portable carts,” Chamness said. “Students are charged by the school nutrition staff when the breakfast is picked up using a mobile point of sale system and then return to their classrooms to eat.”
Rise and Shine grants are awarded to schools where 70 percent or more of the student population qualifies for free or reduced meals.
According to the program statistics, about 440,000 students in Illinois eligible for regular school breakfast did not receive it, so the Second Chance Breakfast program was born.
District Finance Director Cynthia Carpenter said any student who is hungry and wants to grab a snack from the breakfast cart is welcome to it, and the identity of any low-income students is kept secret. Cafeteria school breakfasts often can slap a sticker on students facing financial hardship, so the breakfast cart free-for-all combats that stigma.
“The whole point is that we can’t distinguish between free-and-reduced kids [and others],” Carpenter said. “We have to be very careful as to how it’s set up. It doesn’t matter what your income status is. You come through the line the same – even the cashiers don’t know. It’s not the income status that’s driving it; we just don’t want these kids to be hungry.”
According to Rise and Shine, Illinois is ranked 43rd in the nation for school breakfast participation, and students who regularly eat breakfast score 17 percent higher on standardized tests.
The program now is a month in at the elementary schools, and Carpenter said the hope is to expand it to the rest of the district if the program continues to serve students well.