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Case Studies: Breakfast in the Classroom Successes

Chicago Public Schools: Breakfast Max

Chicago schools are seeing positive improvements in all facets of school life after expanding their breakfast in the classroom program in the 2009–2010 school year. By the end of the school year, 182 schools had adopted breakfast in the classroom, with additional schools expected to implement the program in the current school year. As a result, more than 32,000 additional low-income students ate breakfast each day in the 2009-2010 school year —a 40 percent increase over the previous year.

At McAuliffe Elementary, food service staff assemble thermal bags of both hot and cold meals, which students retrieve and bring to their classrooms, where breakfast is served and eaten at the beginning of first period. In addition to improving the children’s nutrition, teachers report that it gives students a chance to take on more responsibility through the serving and clean-up processes. Since the program began at McAuliffe, students are more likely to arrive at school on time and less likely to have disciplinary problems. Teachers also noticed a significant increase in student alertness. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding state test standards increased by 9.2 percent after the school began serving breakfast in the classroom.

Schools with large student populations, like Harold Washington Elementary, take a different approach and opt for the “grab and go” service model. Upon arrival in the morning, each student picks up a pre-packed meal from a strategic location (like the front hallway or stairwell) and brings it to his or her first class. Once in the classroom, students eat at their desks while the teacher takes attendance and makes morning announcements.

No matter which model the schools use, there is no question about the success of breakfast in the classroom.

“Breakfast has brought a sense of community and closeness to the classroom,” says Ms. Rubis, a 4th


teacher at North River Elementary School, which saw a 40 percent drop in student misconduct after program implementation.

D. C. Public Schools: Impact of the Healthy Schools Act

The D.C. Healthy Schools Act has prompted some big changes in D.C. Public Schools, most notably in the breakfast program. All schools in D.C. now are required to offer free breakfast to all students, and schools with more than 40 percent of the students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals (most of the schools meet this criterion) are required to serve it in the classroom. D.C. is the first city to legislate breakfast in the classroom— and it is proving to be a success.

As a result of moving breakfast into the classroom, participation has increased across the city, with many schools seeing double digit improvements. Participation increased by 29 percent after the first month of implementation.

After a year of serving breakfast in the classroom as one of the city’s pilot programs, River Terrace Elementary School become the first D.C. school to win the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Gold Award for the Healthier US Challenge. Each morning breakfast is served by a student-led “breakfast team” – a group of older students who pick up the meals from the cafeteria and deliver them to the classrooms. When the students are finished eating, they clean up and the trash is picked up by the custodian.

River Terrace has done more than change how breakfast is served; they have integrated nutrition into daily school life. Posters promoting breakfast are situated next to student math projects. The enthusiasm for the program can be seen throughout the school, from the administration, to the parents, to the food service staff.

Principal Shannon Foster understands how indispensible the program is. “Health and wellness are connected to a child’s learning,” she says. “We cannot always know or control what is happening at home but we can control

Food Research and Action Center

School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities


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