Baltimore schools embrace universal free breakfast

Forty schools in the Baltimore, MD, City School District are now serving universal free breakfast, following test programs that improved participation from 18% to 85% in three locations.

The "In Classroom Breakfast Program" began in February 1997 in three Baltimore schools, testing against three pilot schools where breakfast was available as usual—in the cafeteria, free or reduced. While participation rose to 85% within two months in the test schools, in the pilot schools it remained unchanged.

Results achieved: At the same time, attendance rose from 86% to 89% and improvements were also noted in behavior and punctuality, with tardiness cut to one quarter of its previous rate in two of the schools, according to Shirley Kane, LD, staff specialist for catering and mktg., Baltimore City Schools, MD, who spoke at the recent ASFSA conference in Denver, CO.

"The program is now implemented in 40 Baltimore schools, and it's hoped to expand to at least all elementary schools," says Kane. Students don't have to arrive early to eat; breakfast is part of the educational day, consumed during the 15 mins. of notices and roll call. "It's simple but nutritious," she explains.

And there's no longer a stigma of being free and reduced since the breakfast is free for all.

"Even the principals and teachers like this program," she says, "because the kids no longer linger outside and they concentrate a lot better because they're not hungry."

"Winning their support is a slow process but it's most effective when they see the benefits of the program. Teachers' main reason against the program is they feel its something additional for them to do and we still have to be concerned about accountability."

"Cafeteria staff must check that everything is running correctly. Safety is very important; to make sure milk and juice are cold enough, we put them in a freezer before serving."

Program elements: Before the project began, Kane sent an explanational flyer to all parents. Teachers were also instructed on the program and given a booklet. They were told that: 

A minimum of three breakfast items must be available for students.

Each student must take at least two different items.

A student may decline a maximum of one item.

Children are not offered a choice of food.

All unopened leftover food must be returned to the cafeteria.

Leftover milk or juice must be poured into a sink or container and garbage must be placed in the provided trash bag to be picked up by f/s staff.

The in-classroom breakfasts are cold and always contain juice and milk. Other items rotate and include cereal, Nutri-Grain bars, bagels and cream cheese, Danish, muffins and yogurt.

Current overall breakfast participation in Baltimore schools is 26,000, compared to 17,497 before the In Classroom Breakfast Program began. Lunch particiation is almost double breakfast, at 56,955.



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