Thursday, May 23, 2019

Hawaii teachers encouraged to incorporate breakfast into school day

School breakfast pilot program aims to ensure healthy start for keiki

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Hawaii teachers are encouraged to join a local movement to provide their students with a nutritious start to their day.

The state currently ranks 50th in school breakfast participation. Less than 40 percent of students who eat free or reduced-price school lunch in Hawaii are also getting school breakfast.

The Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice has teamed up with First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige to change that by implementing a “breakfast after the bell” model.

“In talking to students and talking to staff, we’re finding that sometimes students don’t get to school on time, so they just make it just in time to get to the classroom so they’ll skip breakfast in the morning or skip the cafeteria breakfast,” said Amano-Ige, a former public school teacher and administrator. “This is an opportunity to really invest in student success, because if students have a healthy breakfast in the morning, then they’ll be able to start the day with more energy, more enthusiasm. They’ll be more alert. Behavior problems, based on research, behavior problems decrease, so I think it’s very much worth the time and investment that we might have to put in to making this work.”

Thanks to a $60,000 No Kid Hungry grant, Amano-Ige and the center are working with several local pilot schools to increase participation in the federal School Breakfast Program. There are three main service options: 

  1. Meals are delivered to the classroom and students eat at their desks during the first 10–15 minutes of the school day; 
  2. Students pick up a bagged breakfast meal from the cafeteria or hallway carts and eat at their desks; and 
  3. Breakfast is served after first period. Experts say this option works well for older students who are often not hungry early in the morning and tend to arrive at school closer to the start of the school day.

“The pilot projects have been fascinating for us, because every school in Hawaii seems to have a different situation, so there’s not one solution that fits all, so we’ve been learning so much,” said Nicole Woo, senior policy analyst, Hawaii Appleseed Center. “Already at a school like Central Middle School that’s started to make adjustments, they have seen some increases in school breakfast participation, so more kids are getting breakfast before class.”

The Hawaii State Teachers Association is asking members to get involved and reach out to their school administration and staff.

“We need teacher leaders, people that are willing to take breakfast after the bell into their schools to make sure that this program can expand. Where schools have done it, it’s been really successful, and we’ve seen skyrocketing participation,” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee. “At the end of the day, I think we all have one goal and that’s to make sure our keiki have food in their bellies and that they have a chance to eat. None of our keiki should go hungry.”

Amano-Ige recently visited HSTA Leeward Chapter's Representative Assembly, which was held at James Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, the first lady's alma mater. Leeward Chapter President Shirley Yamauchi, who teaches at Kapolei Middle School, says she finds the program "extremely valuable, being that 50 of our Hawaii's schools are completely at free lunch status. I highly encourage our Leeward school level leaders to invite Mrs. Ige to their schools and meet with their principals if they are interested." (Photo provided by Shirley Yamauchi.)

Organizers say they will work with teachers to address any concerns they have.

“At this point in the pilot project, we’re looking at ways that might work the best for each school,” Amano-Ige said. “Fern Elementary is a great example. Their students all go to the cafeteria first to eat breakfast, start their day in the morning there, and then go to their classes, and that’s been working for that school.”

Fern Elementary teacher Louise Cayetano monitors the cafeteria and checks in with students as they eat. The bell rings, morning announcements are made, and students are sent off to class.

"Our children here because they’re about, well I would say somewhere between 85-percent free and reduced lunch, so they come to school hungry. Attendance was a problem," Cayetano said. "We had kids that were complaining about being hungry, and when the state had offered this program, we jumped on it right away.

"They come into the cafeteria somewhere around 7:30 or 7:35 (a.m.), and then they go through the line, pick up their breakfast, sit down, and then this is a great place for them to sit down, talk story with their friends," she added. "They’re getting nutritious meals, healthier bodies, and then we see a lot of them just enjoying school more. Our attendance rates are remarkable." 

Cayetano says the school's breakfast participation rate is now more than 90 percent.

Higher breakfast participation also comes with financial benefits. If Hawaii raised its school breakfast participation rate to 70 percent, Hawaii Appleseed Center says the state would receive nearly $7 million per year in additional federal funds.

“One of the things that people think about this program is that it’s going to cost money, and it doesn’t,” Rosenlee said. “If your school has a high rate of Title I students already, it actually saves (the state) money, because if more students participate, we get reimbursed from the federal government at a higher rate.”

If you would like to explore breakfast after the bell at your school, email Rosenlee at crosenlee@hsta.org.

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