Ogaard-Brekken says she hopes it reduces stigma by ‘normalizing’ breakfast at school

    When the 2017-18 school year starts next week, second through sixth-graders attending school at Highland School will be able to start their school day with breakfast, but not only in the cafeteria before the start of the school day as they’ve done for years; they’ll be able to eat breakfast right in their classroom as the school day gets underway.

    The new initiative is the result of a summer of planning led by Food Services Director Anna Ogaard-Brekken and a committee of Highland teachers and staff.

    “It’s an alternative to the traditional breakfast model that takes place prior to the school day,” she explained to the school board this week.

    Thanks in part to funding by the Minnesota Legacy Super Bowl initiative, the NFL’s Play60 program and the Midwest Dairy Council, Highland teachers at the start of each day will be able to go to the cafeteria and wheel on a cart two coolers to their classroom. Then, while they’re laying the groundwork for that day’s instruction and activities, kids if they so choose will be able to select three to five food items that will include milk, juice, choice of fruit, cereal, and an additional grain or protein.

    Kids will be able to eat at their desks, and the breakfast period will end when the school’s morning announcements commence over the PA system around 20 to 25 minutes into the school day, later than they have taken place in the past. Custodians will then take the coolers and any related breakfast items out of the classrooms.

    So why the change?

    Ogaard-Brekken said shortly after she was hired in the district, she noticed that breakfast participation rates were pretty low in the schools, and she thought that was especially significant in the elementary schools, where around half the kids are eligible for free and reduced price meals.

    “It was just a big red flag for me,” she said.

    What she noticed with the before-school breakfast program, lots of kids chose to play outside with their friends on the playground instead of come inside to the cafeteria to eat breakfast. “There wasn’t enough time to do both, play and eat, and I think there’s a bit of a stigma with having to come in and eat breakfast,” Ogaard-Brekken explained. “This will give them more play time before school and, hopefully, reduce that stigma and normalize eating breakfast at school.”

    Then there’s the simple fact backed by lots of research that shows hungry kids often struggle as learners.

    “Hungry, homeless or scared, a kid’s not going to learn,” board member Tim Dufault said. “It’s great what you’re doing here; I hope it works out.”

    Ogaard-Brekken said the modified breakfast program could not only improve attendance, but it could improve student behavior.

    But, right now, the Breakfast in the Classroom program is mostly about giving kids an enhanced opportunity to have breakfast if they want, whether they’re on the free and reduced program or aren’t. (Kids not eligible for free and reduced meals would be charged $1.35 per breakfast, Ogaard-Brekken said.)

    The program will be evaluated throughout the year as a pilot project, she said.

    Asked by board member Dave Davidson how the program would impact instruction, Ogaard-Brekken said the teachers have said activities like group reading could take place while kids are eating breakfast.

    “It might not improve instruction, but it will improve learning,” Superintendent Chris Bates said.

    Speaking for Highland teachers and a member of the committee that put the program together, Kim Davidson said the teachers are fully on board with its launch.

    “I commend Anna for getting all of the stakeholders involved and working out all of the logistics,” Davidson said. “I think everyone’s needs were met.”

    Ogaard-Brekken acknowledged that the problem of eligible families not submitting the necessary paperwork so their kids can get free and reduced price meals exists. Any kids who don’t eat the provided breakfast will be encouraged to bring a healthy snack from home, she said.

    “The kids that can’t afford (full-price meals), all we can do is continue to reach out to their families as much as we can, within appropriate boundaries,” Ogaard-Brekken said. “I want families to know they can talk to me and we can see what we can do for them. We will find another way to help their cause if we have to.”

    A “breakfast party” is in the works for sometime in October, she added, after the kinks in the new Breakfast in the Classroom program have been ironed out. School board members and Bates will be invited, she said.