Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — In order to catch students who are eligible for free and reduced meals but still aren’t having breakfast, the Lockport City School District is bringing the most important meal of the day to their classrooms.
Since the end of January, the district has been piloting such a program at North Park Junior High School. Breakfast in the Classroom is an initiative run by Aramark that allows students to choose their breakfast items from a cart that is arranged outside of their classroom.
The program encourages students who may not have the time or resources to eat breakfast at home to enjoy the most important meal of the day, Tom Heagerty and Noreen Czyzak of Aramark told the Lockport Board of Education on Wednesday.
Aramark provides food and nutrition services to over 3,000 schools nationwide. The company became Lockport’s meal provider prior to this school year, when Aramark turned out to be the lowest bidder. The district was required to bid out the meal services, as a result of new federal legislation.
Students who eat breakfast regularly are healthier and do better in school, Czyzak said. And from 1998 to 2008 families across the country with inadequate meals has risen about 24 percent, according to Aramark.
Czyzak said the effects of not eating breakfast regularly could be seen at North Park.
“When we walked up and down the halls we saw a lot of this,” she said, slouching and hanging her head.
The program is open to all students. At North Park, 252 students on average take part in the Breakfast in the Classroom program, with 195 of them eligible for free and reduced meals. Those are increases from the usual average of 81 breakfast meals per day that were given, 74 of which were kids eligible for free and reduced meals.
“They weren’t coming to the cafeteria,” Czyzak said.
There are a total of 798 kids at North Park, 432 of which are eligible to receive free or reduced meals. Aramark said 53 percent or 2,828 of the 5,334 Lockport district students are eligible, but only 1,021 eat breakfast. Just 824 of those kids who eat breakfast can receive free or reduced meals.
Part of the issue could be the stigma of having to eat breakfast at school, Czyzak said. And eating in the classroom allows the school to feed a large number of kids at once, instead of cramming them into a cafeteria.
Breakfast items are delivered to rooms on carts in insulated bags. A roster accompanies each cart, where teachers can keep track of who eats that day. Twice a week, hot meals are delivered to classrooms.
Kids are allowed in to school just before 8 a.m., at which point they head to homeroom. Homeroom is usually their first period class, which runs from 8:06 a.m. until 8:51 a.m. each day. The period is longer than the others, which run 40 minutes each at North Park, because of the homeroom time.
So the kids who participate in breakfast don’t miss a minute of instructional time, said North Park Assistant Principal Jennifer Gilson. But teachers do have the option to participate and four at North Park chose not to, she said.
Trustee Thomas Fiegl had a concern about kids who didn’t need to eat breakfast at school. There are students who think school time is being wasted, he said.
Teachers did have that concern, Gilson told board members. But no instruction time is being lost, she said, while some teachers use the time to either start instruction early. Others eat and spend some time conversing with the kids.
Parents can prepay for Breakfast in the Classroom with Lockport’s online program. MyPaymentsPlus allows parents to set up an account for each of their kids attending Lockport schools and lets them track electronically how much is being spent and view what is purchased.
Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley said the district is looking into whether or not to expand the program to other Lockport schools. There was an interest in expanding to Emmet Belknap Intermediate School this year, but that didn’t happen.
The company will put together a final report on the North Park program before any decision is made.
”We’re going to continue to work through and cultivate it,” Bradley said.NORTH PARK BREAKFAST IN CLASSROOM PROGRAM • BEFORE PROGRAM STARTED: Average of 81 breakfast meals per day given, 67 of which were kids eligible for free breakfast and 7 of which were eligible for reduced meals • AFTER: 252 meals on average given per day, with 163 children eligible for free meals and 32 eligible for a reduced meal • TOTAL: There are 798 kids at North Park, 432 of which are eligible to receive free or reduced meals Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.