Elgin Area School District U-46 has ended a program that provided additional nutritional support for students eligible for free and reduced meals.
Officials said they had to discontinue the Breakfast in the Classroom pilot program because it was cutting into instructional time and decided against implementing the full program districtwide.
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The move prompted members of the Elgin Teachers Association to collect food donations in an effort to supplement the discontinued program and help struggling families within the district. Union members recently collected more than 80 boxes of donations for the Northern Illinois Food Bank -- an effort leaders hope to continue during the summer months and throughout the school year, said Kathy Castle, union president.
"We have many sites, and many students and many families that struggle with hunger," she said. "We choose the Northern Illinois Food Bank as a partner because they help support programs that touch many of our school communities."
Castle said the district's decision to end the Breakfast in the Classroom program came as a surprise. The program is an initiative of the National Education Association in partnership with the Wal-Mart Foundation and other businesses.
The idea behind the initiative is making breakfast available to all students regardless of income level. Breakfast is served after the opening bell and children eat together in the classroom, usually the homeroom, at the start of the school day. Students are given nutritionally balanced foods like breakfast wraps, yogurt or fruit served directly in their classroom or grabbed from a cart in the hallway, according to the program's website.
Students may also eat breakfast while the teacher takes attendance, collects homework or teaches a short lesson plan, per the website.
Breakfast in the Classroom has typically been implemented in smaller school districts.
"The district and the union agreed to work with this group," Castle said. "It was only the second year of their program. Ours was a big undertaking for them. They don't provide funding for the program. They provide some equipment and expertise. They help the district figure out how to get grant money and use it more effectively."
Castle said the district had previously been providing meals for low-income students, but participation was low.
The Breakfast in the Classroom program was designed to increase participation, officials said. On average, daily participation was at 6,172 students in the first year of the pilot, and 9,599 in the second year.
Teachers would talk about food as part of their instruction, Castle said.
Officials could not quantify how much instructional time was spent on the program.
"We are grateful for the support from the Wal-Mart Foundation and the partners for Breakfast in the Classroom for the partial funding that made the pilot program possible during the past two years at 10 schools within our district," according to an internal memo from Jeff King, U-46 chief operations officer.
"Next school year, students who are eligible for free or reduced breakfast will still be able to participate in the district breakfast program before school," King wrote.
The School Breakfast Program is available to all students. Students who quality to receive a free or reduced lunch also are eligible to receive a free breakfast, officials said.
Meanwhile, Castle said the 2,400 teachers in the union will continue their efforts.
"We have many (school) sites that do individual food drives in the community," she said. "Providing food for kids is a big, complicated thing. We know that as an organization we're never going to be able to have as big an impact as the school district can have. We'll continue to work with the district to do whatever we can to support providing kids nutrition during the school year."