“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
“Teamwork makes the dream work.”
Everyone is familiar with these two phrases. From a health and wellness perspective, we know that students who eat breakfast have higher test scores, better attendance, fewer trips to the nurse, and fewer behavioral problems. Research also tells us that collaboration amongst organizations leads to increased community awareness, the ability to overcome obstacles, sharing of resources, and greater impact when tackling tough issues such as school breakfast. To maximize the impact on childhood hunger in Indiana, a strong partnership has been created between local school districts, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), No Kid Hungry (NKH), Action For Healthy Kids (AFHK), the Purdue Extension Nutrition Education Program (NEP), and the American Dairy Association (ADA). This state-wide taskforce has come together to increase access to, and participation in, school breakfast.
No Kid Hungry has a current long-term goal of 70% of students who eat free or reduced-priced lunch also eat school breakfast. Currently, 51% of qualifying students participate in school breakfast, putting Indiana 39th nationwide in this metric. The number of children who need to eat school breakfast to reach the 70% goal is known as “the breakfast gap.” Located in Lake County, the School City of Hammond has the third largest breakfast gap in the state at 1,720 students. The taskforce is now focused on closing that gap through funding, resource sharing, and ongoing dialogue to troubleshoot issues in real-time. This is a first-of-its-kind model to address childhood hunger in Indiana.
In implementation, this partnership includes evidence-based models and best practices from No Kid Hungry, school-based assessment and implementation assistance from the Purdue Extension Nutrition Education Program, equipment provision and advisement by the American Dairy Association, training and guidance by the Indiana Department of Education, and technical support by Action For Healthy Kids. Funding for this work comes through grants from NKH, IDOE, ADA, and AFHK. Changes to school breakfast will come in phases, with highest-priority schools being addressed first in the coming school year.
Breakfast After the Bell (BATB) increases participation rates while reducing stigma around school meals by making breakfast part of the school day and moving it from the traditional cafeteria setting. In fact, research shows that Breakfast in the Classroom has an average participation rate of 88% in Indiana, while traditional school breakfast lags behind with 46%. The School City of Hammond will utilize this model, along with free breakfast and lunch district-wide through Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), to increase school breakfast participation across the city.
This state-wide taskforce is still a new concept, but is already proving effective in generating a greater impact. We have seen an increase in participation rates in Hammond schools ranging from 1% to 15%. Additionally, we have been able to bring to the table organizations that are doing common work, but have not had the opportunity to collaborate in the past. We expect these connections to strengthen over time, giving us best practices and promising data to share with school districts across Indiana. Because of the willingness of the involved groups to work across organizational lines and open the lines of communication, we expect to make real strides in addressing childhood hunger through school breakfast participation.
If you are interested in making breakfast part of your school day, visit https://www.nokidhungry.org/what-we-do/school-breakfast to find out how to get started. Every member of the community has an important role to play, from advocacy to implementation to spreading the word. Now is the time to come together with your local school districts to make a real impact on the health and well-being of students.
Theresa Mince, MA, CHES, Community Wellness Coordinator, Nutrition Education Program – Purdue Extension
No Kid Hungry – Charting Your Breakfast Course 7/25/19