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updated: 8/11/2014 1:15 PM

U-46 teachers urge district to reconsider breakfast program

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  • Ten-year-old Delilah Herrera, a fourth-grade student at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin enjoys breakfast as part of the Breakfast in Classroom program that is available at 10 U46 schools this year. Elgin Area School District U-46 teachers are trying to revive a special program that fed students a free breakfast in their classrooms.

       Ten-year-old Delilah Herrera, a fourth-grade student at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin enjoys breakfast as part of the Breakfast in Classroom program that is available at 10 U46 schools this year. Elgin Area School District U-46 teachers are trying to revive a special program that fed students a free breakfast in their classrooms.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Captain Nutrition greets students at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin as they head to the classroom to enjoy breakfast as part of the Breakfast in Classroom program that is available at 10 U46 schools this year. Elgin Area School District U-46 teachers are trying to revive a special program that fed students a free breakfast in their classrooms.

       Captain Nutrition greets students at Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin as they head to the classroom to enjoy breakfast as part of the Breakfast in Classroom program that is available at 10 U46 schools this year. Elgin Area School District U-46 teachers are trying to revive a special program that fed students a free breakfast in their classrooms.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

Elgin Area School District U-46 teachers are trying to revive a special program that fed students a free breakfast in their classrooms.

The district in June discontinued the pilot Breakfast in the Classroom program. School leaders said the meals were cutting into instructional time, so they decided against implementing the program districtwide.

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Now the Elgin Teachers Association is asking the U-46 school board to reconsider. Supporters want to meet with the board to discuss options for restarting the program, said Kathy Castle, Elgin Teachers Association president.

"The teachers never had a conversation about it, and we had made a commitment for another year," Castle said.

U-46 spokesman Patrick Mogge said district administrators will meet with teachers to hear their concerns, likely after the school year begins.

Officials said students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch still will be able to participate in the School Breakfast Program available to all students.

The Breakfast in the Classroom program aimed to increase student participation in the School Breakfast Program. It is a joint initiative of the Food Research and Action Center, National Association of Elementary School Principals Foundation, National Education Association Health Information Network and the School Nutrition Foundation.

It provides all students, regardless of income level, access to a free breakfast in the classroom, eliminating the need for cafeterias. Breakfast is served after the opening bell and children eat together in the classroom, usually their homeroom, at the start of the school day.

Students receive nutritionally balanced foods like breakfast wraps, yogurt or fruit served directly in their classroom or grabbed from a cart in the hallway. Students can eat while their instructor takes attendance, collects homework or teaches a short lesson plan, according to the program's website.

"This is an important shift, as it combats a number of concerns we have seen nationally," said Sarah Murphy, spokeswoman for Washington, D.C.-based School Nutrition Foundation, who was part of the initiative that helped bring the program to U-46. "Some schools don't have the cafeteria space to serve all kids in the cafeteria at the same time,"

The program was piloted in 10 elementary schools: Channing, Garfield, Harriett Gifford, Huff, Laurel Hill, McKinley, Parkwood, Sheridan, Washington and Ellis Middle School. Breakfast participation at those schools increased from 22 percent to an average of 71 percent, program leaders said. On average, daily participation was at 6,172 students in the first year of the pilot and 9,599 in the second year.

Annelise Cohon, senior program coordinator for the NEA Health Information Network, said school districts nationwide are expanding school breakfast participation.

"After how much has been accomplished over the last two years, it would be unfortunate to see Elgin's breakfast participation numbers fall down to 22 percent again," she said.

Cohon said the partners signed a memorandum of understanding with the district and committed more than $200,000 to run the program through the 2014-2015 school year.

"We have seen the universal challenges many school districts face when implementing breakfast in the classroom and have the capacity to resolve these issues and bring our partners, consultants, local and national stakeholders together to come up with solutions that will work for everyone in the school building," she said.

Nationally, about 13 million schoolchildren participate daily in school breakfast programs.

"To date we have helped to feed an additional 70,000 students school breakfast in 14 school districts, including U-46," Murphy said. "We all know that hungry students cannot learn and this program addresses a very real need in the Elgin community around food insecurity and low breakfast participation."

Murphy said teachers have seen a decrease in tardiness, absenteeism, visits to the school nurse and discipline referrals as a result of the program.

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