Teacher Voice

I Didn't Want My Students to Have to Choose Between Hunger and Making Friends

I have a weakness. I’m not good at saying no. Last summer, I was invited to attend a focus group on school breakfast at the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) conference. I arrived with the attitude that my school already has a breakfast program, and this topic was not new to me. I wasn’t sure why I even agreed to attend, but I did. As I heard Brie Doyle from No Kid Hungry speak, I realized that I did belong in this focus group. I thought back to the previous school year. I realized that Jill (name changed) gave up eating breakfast to have social time with her friends. Jill lied and said that she ate at home which I knew she did not. But, I didn’t realize that the way our school breakfast program was served was forcing Jill to choose between socializing and eating. At my school, breakfast is served as students arrive at school in the cafeteria, before instruction begins. Students who do not eat breakfast go to their homeroom and have time with their peers. Jill chose socializing instead of eating breakfast. She would tell me later in the day that her belly hurt. I feel horrible that I didn’t connect the dots, and I had a feeling that Jill wasn’t the only one. I couldn’t fix the past, but I could change things for my new class. I was a teacher on a mission to save my future students from hunger. I met with my principal the week after the conference. Quickly, I was able to convince him to allow me to start a pilot program with my fourth-graders. I explained that breakfast after the bell is an intervention just like educational interventions for reading or math. My principal asked me to send him a list of what I needed changed and potential concerns, then she contacted the director of food services. I had her full support. Every new initiative has hurdles or fears that can get in the way. Mine? I was afraid to allow maple syrup into my classroom. We all know how sticky it can be, and here I was putting it into my room at the beginning of a school day. But that fear was unwarranted. My students have been wonderful! If they make a mess, they quietly go get a paper towel and soap and clean it up. I had to convince two colleagues to change their schedules. Our reading intervention time needed to shift 15 minutes later. A school schedule is a complex puzzle, but they were willing to adjust when they heard of the benefits to our students. My school district, like many, is very concerned with using every instructional minute. So that my students receive the same instructional time, I use the time that they are eating to do a read aloud from a novel. And what about the students who don’t eat breakfast? They are involved with the read aloud. I am seeing major results. I have approximately 80 percent of my students eating breakfast daily in the classroom. Yes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. My students have proven this, telling me that “Breakfast After the Bell” has many positive impacts on their lives.
  1. Mornings at home are easier because they are not rushed to eat.
  2. They can see all of their friends, not just those who go to breakfast.
  3. They are no longer rushed in the cafeteria.
  4. They are not missing out on anything important to them, but gaining a leg up. One student said, “Before I never got to play because I had to go to breakfast. If you went to breakfast, you missed out on morning things.” Now, my students are not missing out on anything and are starting their days ready to learn!
You can be a teacher leader in this work. Talk to your administration and school nutrition staff. Read more at nokidhungry.org or nnstoy.org to find out more about school breakfast programs and ways to advocate for your students. Volunteer to start a pilot in your classroom like I did. My students have benefited because of my weakness of not saying no. Attending an informational session on Breakfast After the Bell changed the environment of my classroom in many positive ways. My students begin their days ready to learn which is a dream come true for me. If you want to learn more about school breakfast programs and how to advocate for them in your school visit nokidhungry.org or nnstoy.org.
Angela Homan is a fourth grade teacher in the Penns Valley Area School District in central Pennsylvania. She has also taught fifth and sixth grade. Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher and was a finalist for Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year in 2011. Angela is also a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year.

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