Breakfast After the Bell is a cornerstone of the school culture at Pepperell High School in Lindale, GA. Students are welcomed by an assortment of breakfast items in a six-foot-tall cart located by the main entrance of the school. The school day begins at 7:50 a.m., and the breakfast cart is available at no cost to all students until 8:30 a.m. This alternative breakfast model ensures that all students have an opportunity to grab a healthy morning meal, so they start their day with the nutrition they need in order to learn.
Students enter the building in a rush to get to first period after socializing with friends in the courtyard. They shuffle into some semblance of a line, pick up a morning meal from the cart, jot down their I.D. numbers, and continue on to their first-period class. “It takes 10 seconds,” says Principal Jamey Alcorn.
In the classroom, students sit and listen attentively as the teacher gives morning announcements. The classroom is quiet—students’ mouths are filled with fruit, cheese, and smoothies. Eating breakfast at school is just another piece of the morning routine; it’s a part of the school culture, and the students expect it.
Offered at No Cost to Students
School principals can be leaders in ensuring their students have the nutrition they need to perform academically. Alcorn puts his students first by supporting his school’s Breakfast After the Bell program, which innovatively helps to remove many of the barriers that students face in accessing school breakfast. Traditional school breakfast—which occurs before the start of the day in the cafeteria—doesn’t work well for many students. Busy morning schedules, late bus arrivals, a desire to socialize with friends instead of going to the cafeteria, and the stigma that school breakfast is only for “poor kids” can prevent students from eating breakfast at school.
However, Breakfast After the Bell becomes an inherent part of the school’s morning activities, akin to taking attendance or handing in homework. This integration allows schools to take a holistic approach to meeting the needs of their students, making it convenient and accessible to eat school breakfast and removing any stigma attached to participating. The approach boosts school breakfast participation, which in turn supports academic performance.
Research on School Breakfast Participation
FRAC’s Breakfast for Learning brief (available at frac.org/wp-content/uploads/breakfastforlearning-1.pdf), provides research on school breakfast participation, including its positive impact on cognitive function, attentiveness, and memory recall. In fact, students who eat a nutritious breakfast closer to test-taking time perform better on standardized tests compared to their counterparts who skip breakfast or eat at home. Furthermore, eating school breakfast has been associated with decreases in tardiness, absenteeism, and behavioral issues.
“The kids know it’s there,” Alcorn says. “It relieves any kind of anxiety or concern about being able to grab a piece of fruit and cheese, or a smoothie on Thursdays and Fridays. It takes food off their mind so they can focus on their academics.”
Since implementing “grab and go” breakfast at Pepperell High School, the school’s College and Career Ready Performance Index—which includes many academic performance indicators—achieved the highest mark in the history of the school. “From a data standpoint, we had a great data year in terms of all of our indicators; it would be hard for me to say that the availability of this ‘grab and go’ breakfast did not tie into the successes we’ve had in the classroom,” Alcorn says.
FRAC, in partnership with NASSP, surveyed 105 secondary school principals who implemented the Breakfast After the Bell program and found that 87 percent of principals were pleased with their breakfast programs and believed other principals should consider launching a similar model. The positive response among secondary school principals moved FRAC and NASSP to release a Breakfast After the Bell toolkit, which assists principals with launching the program in their schools.
Alcorn believes that if he attempted to remove the “grab and go” breakfast in his school, there would be significant pushback from teachers. At first, he was slightly skeptical of the program, but his superintendent and board of education saw the importance of it. After it was implemented, Alcorn quickly saw the importance as well—in addition to the positive impact on his students.
“After a few days of the program being available at our school, I figured out that this is such a win for our school,” he says. “There has been zero loss of instructional time. Our teachers embrace it, they understand it, they welcome it, and it has become a part of our school culture and community—our parents are involved as well. It gives our parents a sense of contentment that there will be food for their children to eat, every single day. How do you not celebrate that?”
Alison Maurice, MSW, is a child nutrition policy analyst at the Food Research & Action Center in Washington, D.C.
Making It Work
There are several ways schools can implement a Breakfast After the Bell model:
- “Grab and Go”: Students (particularly older ones) can easily grab the components of their breakfast quickly from carts or kiosks in the hallway or the cafeteria line to eat in their classrooms, just as they do at Pepperell High School.
- Breakfast in the Classroom: Meals can either be delivered to the classroom or served from the cafeteria or carts in the hallway to be eaten in the classroom at the start of the school day.
- Second-Chance Breakfast: Students are offered a second chance to eat breakfast after homeroom or first period. Many middle and high school students are not hungry first thing in the morning. Serving them breakfast after first period allows them ample time to arrive to class on time or socialize before school, while still providing them with a nutritious start early in the day.