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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Breakfast in the Classroom

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
January 16, 2015

At the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's regular meeting on January 27, 2015, we will continue our discussion of the "breakfast in the classroom" program, which we began at the Board's strategic planning retreat last month.

Research shows that hungry children do not learn effectively . A good breakfast gives children the energy they need to succeed in school. Yet in Massachusetts, only 45% of the low income students who participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) also participate in a school breakfast program. Attached to this memo is a summary of the school breakfast programs in a sampling of our Level 4 and Level 5 schools. As you can see, participation rates vary widely.

Eligibility and Funding

All public and private elementary and secondary schools are eligible to participate in the school breakfast program. Roughly 1,400 of our 1,900 public schools participate in the school breakfast program. Participation is mandatory under state law in about a thousand of these schools because their enrollment includes high percentages of low income students.

Participating schools must serve breakfasts that meet federal nutrition standards. All children in the school are eligible to purchase breakfast. For students who are eligible for free or reduced price meals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) subsidizes the cost through reimbursement to the district. A small additional subsidy is also provided by the Commonwealth.

USDA's new Community Eligibility Provision allows high poverty schools to offer both breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. This new program has the potential to both increase participation rates and significantly decrease the school's administrative burden for processing eligibility forms and collecting meal fees.

Massachusetts also has been funding a universal school breakfast program for a number of years in high poverty elementary schools. Last year this program provided $2.1 million to 291 schools in 47 districts.

Although serving more students can result in an increase in labor and food costs, schools often find that the marginal costs resulting from higher participation rates are more than covered by the increase in federal and state reimbursements.

School Breakfast Models

There are a variety of ways to serve breakfast at school. The model that works best for a particular school will depend on a number of considerations, such as the percentage of children at the school eligible for free or reduced price school meals, the availability of cafeteria space and staff, the physical layout of the school, the school's start time, and the morning bus schedule.

Traditional Cafeteria Breakfast. In a traditional breakfast program, meals are provided to students in the cafeteria before the start of the school day. Students select their breakfast from a serving line before checking out at the register. In many ways, traditional breakfast closely resembles school lunch. It has the benefit of providing menu planners with a good deal of flexibility: breakfasts may be served either hot or cold, and there are no special packaging considerations for any of the food items because students consume their meals in the cafeteria. However, traditional breakfast is often inconvenient for many students who would benefit from participating in the breakfast program. Students may arrive late, leaving too little time to stop in the cafeteria. Some students may not be hungry that early in the morning, while other students may feel eating breakfast singles them out. And some students would simply prefer to play outside with their friends.

Second Chance Breakfast. In this model, students eat breakfast during a break in the morning, making it beneficial for those who arrive late to school or are not hungry when they first arrive. Second Chance Breakfast can offer breakfast in the cafeteria, in the classroom, or from a kiosk. Providing extra trash cans in heavy traffic areas helps to ensure that trash is discarded properly. This model is more easily implemented in higher grades where students are more independent and have passing time between classes.

Grab & Go. Grab & Go describes a system in which breakfasts are packaged in paper bags, boxes, or trays for students to pick up and eat elsewhere. The hallmark of Grab & Go is flexibility in both service time and location. Depending on school policy, students may be able to eat their breakfast in a number of different locations, including classrooms, the cafeteria, or the hallway. Allowing students to eat on their own terms, when they have time and are hungry, can increase participation. Cold meals are typically easier to manage in a Grab & Go model, although hot items often appeal more to students. Costs for packaging and for point of sale equipment (carts, kiosks, tables, etc.) may be higher than other models. Enforcement of rules regarding where meals can be eaten and how to dispose of trash also can be challenging.

Breakfast in the Classroom. In this service model, student helpers or staff bring breakfast to the classroom and students eat at their desks at the beginning of the day or during a morning break. Breakfasts can be served either hot or cold, depending on the school's facilities. Breakfast typically takes about 10 to 15 minutes, during which time teachers can take attendance, collect homework, deliver announcements, or begin the day's instruction. Breakfast items may be more limited than one may find in a traditional cafeteria breakfast, and packaging costs must be taken into account. Adequate procedures for clean-up and trash removal are important. Provision must also be made for collecting meal fees, unless the school is eligible for a universal breakfast program. This model is undoubtedly the most accessible for students and generally leads to increased participation rates. The table below shows the increase in school breakfast participation rates in twelve schools in small urban districts that have recently implemented breakfast in the classroom.

Student Participation in School Breakfast Prior to and During Breakfast in the Classroom
DistrictSchoolMonth/Year Prior to BIC#%Month/Year During BIC#%
Brockton Public SchoolsBrookfield Elementary SchoolOct-1224138%Oct-1360694%
Gardner Public SchoolsHelen Mae Sauter Elementary SchoolOct-133613%Oct-1418470%
Waterford Elementary SchoolOct-138617%Oct-1441783%
Leominster Public SchoolsSoutheast Elementary SchoolOct-1311320%Oct-1449385%
Medford Public SchoolsColumbus Elementary SchoolOct-1226156%Oct-1333873%
Salem Public SchoolsBates Elementary SchoolOct-126922%Oct-1315454%
Bentley Elementary SchoolOct-1226865%Oct-1327273%
Carlton Elementary SchoolOct-1210148%Oct-1318192%
Horace Mann Elementary SchoolOct-127326%Oct-1323280%
Taunton Public SchoolsH. H. Galligan Elementary SchoolOct-1114926%Oct-1224494%
Elizabeth Pole Elementary SchoolSep-1316825%Sep-1448572%
James L. Mulcahey Elementary SchoolSep-1310222%Sep-1440787%
All SchoolsParticipation Prior to BIC1,668 Participation During BIC4,013 

Student Learning Time

The Board's Student Learning Time regulations (603 CMR 27) require schools to offer 900 hours each year of structured learning time at the elementary level and 990 hours at the secondary level. School breakfast time is explicitly excluded from the definition of structured learning time; when this regulation was adopted twenty years ago breakfast was typically offered in the traditional cafeteria model.

With the demonstrated success of breakfast in the classroom in improving participation rates, a number of districts that would like to offer this option have asked if the time can count toward their structured learning time requirement. Given the importance of classroom learning time, any adjustments to our policy must be done cautiously and thoughtfully. In this case, there is a strong argument for a change in our practice, to help ensure that all our students have the opportunity to eat a nutritious breakfast. I am considering issuing policy guidance that would allow breakfast in the classroom time to be counted as structured learning time, provided that instructional activities directed by a teacher are taking place while the students eat their meals. I would also propose limiting this provision to no more than 15 minutes per day.

I look forward to getting your thoughts and feedback on this issue at the January 27 meeting.

Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson, Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston, and Kathleen Millett, our executive director of school nutrition programs, will join us for the discussion.


Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Level 4 & 5 Schools Breakfast Survey

Last Updated: January 23, 2015
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