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By: Cheryl Hehl - Staff Writer
UNION — Students at Burnet Middle School had their first opportunity last week to choose a “grab and go” nutritious breakfast and it proved to be quite a success.
Superintendent of Schools Patrick Martin is always looking for a better way to do things. Be it increased opportunity for students to learn, improved testing or ensuring students have something in their stomachs before the school day begins.
Martin admitted that it bothered him that, for example, only 63 eligible students participated in the reduced or free federally subsidized breakfast program at Burnet. Approximately 1,100 attend the school.
In fact, it was such a concern to Martin, he decided to do something about it and he explained why.
“Kids need something in their tummies in order to be receptive to learning, and the fact only 63 students went into the cafeteria before school started to have breakfast was concerning,” he explained, adding that some students stop at the store before school or grab a soda and potato chips from a vending machine.
“We all know that is not the way to go,” the superintendent said, adding that chips and soda do not provide a balanced supply of protein and nutrients needed to fuel a child until lunch. In fact, they provide almost none.
“There is a lot of research proving that students who eat a good breakfast do better in school and avoid obesity problems,” Martin said.
But he confessed that coming up with a way to counteract the empty calories students were availing themselves of rather than a nutritious breakfast did stump him for awhile. Until he read about other school districts that were using the “grab and go” breakfast.
“As soon as I heard about it I thought this was the perfect answer to our problem,” the superintendent said, explaining that his next step was to talk to the school food supplier, AeroMark, to see if they could accommodate this concept.
Martin said the food supplier bent over backwards to facilitate the grab and go breakfast idea and Jan. 6 when students came to the middle school, everyone had the option of “grabbing” either a paper sack containing a whole grain bagel with cream cheese, raisins and orange juice or a whole grain muffin, apple slices and orange juice.
How did they do? Even the superintendent was surprised by the response.
“I couldn’t believe we jumped from 63 kids eating breakfast to 99 the first day and the following day it jumped to 104,” the superintendent said proudly.
Martin said the problem is not that kids do not want to eat, but that they just don’t have time to stop and eat breakfast, either at home or once they get to school.
“It’s our hectic lifestyle. Even kids don’t have 10 or 15 minutes to sit down and eat in the morning, let alone stop at the cafeteria before classes before the day begins,” he said, adding that most students get to school right on time, with no extra minutes to spare for breakfast.
“But if you give kids the opportunity to grab something on the way into school, something they can eat in the classroom, they will eat,” Martin said.
Of course, the downside is the problem of the litter this breakfast on the go can create every morning, something Martin said is easily solved.
“Look, we have our janitors empty classroom garbage cans more often if that’s the case, and a few raisins on the floor or some crumbs is not going to hurt a classroom. The important thing is students have something in their tummies and can concentrate on absorbing what they are learning,” Martin explained. He also said teachers will have to put up with a few raisins on the floor.
“If this leads to kids concentrating better, it is worth it,” he added.
“Breakfast translates into better grades. I know that because I read the studies out there,” the superintendent said, adding that he is looking for other fast, nutrient-packed breakfast ideas so students do not get bored with the morning grab and go breakfast concept.
“I thought about doing some kind of smoothie, and we are working on that,” Martin said, but would not make any promises.
“We want the kids to eat breakfast, so it is up to us to find things they like so they will grab a breakfast and go to their classrooms,” the superintendent said.
Martin said he heard some districts had success with the grab and go breakfast concept, while others did not. So far, he is willing to branch out and test the waters in other schools in the district.
“We are going to try it at Kawameeh Middle School and then the high school,” the superintendent said, hoping that the concept is just as popular in these schools.
“Whatever effort we have to make to make sure kids have breakfast, we will do it,” he added, noting that watching the kids grab those breakfast lunch bags made him feel “like a parent who watched their child eat breakfast.”