January 31, 2018
Reporter: R.A. Schuetz
Source: The Hour
Photo: Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media
NORWALK — Adult commuters often grab a morning bite from the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through. At Kendall Elementary School, youngsters have their own way to fuel up: the Grab ‘n Go line.
The school is one of many in the district that has moved breakfast from the cafeteria to the entrance of the school, where students can purchase an easy-to-carry meal on their way to class. At Kendall, Grab ‘n Go has nearly doubled the percentage of students who eat breakfast at school, and by next school year, all Norwalk Public Schools will have transitioned to the program.
As they moved through the line Tuesday, each student quickly picked out a muffin, fresh fruit and a beverage from tables set up in front of the school’s main entrance. And before you knew it, they were off to class, where they had time to eat with other students before starting the day.
As they did so, a group of adults gathered to witness the program talked among themselves.
“I think this is moving very smoothly,” commented one of them, Kayla Jackson. “I’m so impressed with the different options — they have difference juices, different milks, Lactaid even.”
Jackson was with American Association of School Administrators, the organization that awarded Norwalk Public Schools a $52,000 grant for the program. AASA has been distributing breakfast grants funded by the Walmart Foundation since 2011, funding breakfasts at a total of 30 school districts. That money is being used to purchase equipment to expand the Grab ‘n Go pilot program at Brookside Elementary School that was funded by Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry last year.
Already, the program has been expanded to Kendall, Jefferson, Fox Run, Trace and Silvermine elementary schools. Over the next two months, Grab ‘n Go will be introduced to Marvin, Rowayton, Cranbury, Wolfpit and Naramake elementary schools, West Rocks and Ponus Ridge middle schools and Columbus Magnet School; the remaining schools will transition next school year.
George Kirby, who has overseen the logistics of the program with Whitsons School Nutrition, pulled out a printout of breakfast numbers for the school. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of students eating breakfast at school since breakfast moved from the cafeteria to Grab ‘n Go.
In October, before the program was rolled out, 17 percent of Kendall’s student body ate breakfast in the cafeteria. This January, that number jumped to 29 percent of students eating breakfast through Grab ‘n Go.
“If having a full breakfast aids students in the ability to learn and pay attention, then the more students we reach, the better,” Kirby said. “We did this by making it more accessible — by moving the cafeteria to the front of the school.”
Zakiyyah Baker, the principal of the school, said that while some people had feared that food in the classroom may cause clean-up issues, the program had unfolded smoothly and actually opened the door for more learning.
“There have been more opportunities for teachers to start instruction earlier,” Baker said. Without time in the cafeteria, students are getting to their classroom earlier, which some teachers have capitalized on with math worksheets over breakfast. “So they can begin their day while they’re eating.”
Jackson was also optimistic about the impacts of Grab ‘n Go program, although for different reasons. She mentioned the focus groups AASA had done with elementary, middle and high school students and said that the sense of community that breakfast provides allows students to settle in and focus for the day.
“There’s this whole idea that every thing’s quick — that we want to grab and go, eat in front of a screen, that we don’t want to sit down and eat together,” she said. “And I don’t think that’s true. For anybody.”