Guest post by Mieka Sanderson
Secondary school principals across the nation are rallying around a new take on the School Breakfast Program: breakfast after the bell. The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) and the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) released a report in November 2015, School Breakfast After the Bell: Equipping Students for Academic Success, which showed that 87 percent of principals who implemented the program believe other principals should explore launching a similar program. Echoing the results of the elementary school principals’ report FRAC published in November 2013, implementing a Breakfast after the Bell program in secondary schools has proven to be a superior alternative to the traditional before-school breakfast program.
Let’s start with the improvements that principals noticed in their students:
- Improved student attentiveness (46 percent)
- Fewer occurrences of tardiness (32 percent) and absenteeism (21 percent)
- Fewer visits to the school nurse (21 percent)
- Fewer disciplinary referrals (18 percent)
- Improved reading and math test scores (9 percent)
But what is breakfast after the bell? There are three models:
- “Grab and go” breakfasts, which are provided in prepackaged brown bags and are distributed to students throughout the school.
- Second chance breakfast, which happens during an extended morning break where students can get breakfast from the cafeteria.
- Breakfast in the classroom, which is delivered directly to classrooms.
Despite the great need, for every 100 low income students participating in the National School Lunch Program, only 46 eat school breakfast. (Hewins, J. . School Breakfast Scorecard: School Year 2014–2015. Food Research & Action Center.) There are a host of reasons why students eligible for free and reduced-price meals are not participating in the School Breakfast Program including social stigma, inconvenience, and other morning priorities.
First, students can become deterred from taking part in school breakfast due to its association with being viewed as a program for “poor kids.” This stigma becomes even more pronounced among secondary school students. Second, with hectic morning schedules, and busy working parents, it is difficult for students to arrive at school 20 minutes before first period to eat school breakfast. Lastly, middle and high school students who do arrive before school starts often prefer to use that time to socialize with friends.
Results from FRAC and NASSP’s report indicate that a breakfast after the bell model overcomes these common barriers by adjusting the timing and location of school breakfast. After implementing the program, 82 percent of principals noted an increase in school breakfast participation. Making breakfast available to all students—and serving it after the bell—allows eating breakfast to become part of the school culture, and no student or subset of students feels singled out for participating in the School Breakfast Program and getting the nutrition they deserve.
Numerous principals praised the program’s ability to transform the school environment and remove stigma associated with eating breakfast at school. “Students seem to enjoy eating breakfast more now than when they had to go through the cafeteria line because they still have time in the morning to socialize and get breakfast, well before class begins,” said a high school principal from Caroline County Public Schools in Maryland. “I feel that our climate has improved significantly because students are fed—all of them. There is no stigma about who eats breakfast since we all do it together.”
Principals are the key stakeholders in ensuring the successful implementation of breakfast after the bell alternatives. Successful execution depends on the cooperation and collaboration of multiple stakeholders including teachers, staff, students, and parents. Two case studies in NASSP’s and FRAC’s joint report illustrate how stakeholders came together and developed successful breakfast after the bell programs that met the needs of their schools.
Mieka Sanderson is a Policy Analyst at the Food Research & Action Center and works to improve the reach of the School Breakfast Program among low-income children.