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Sharpening student hunger for learning
Manteca schools serve free breakfast in classrooms
Shasta first grader Natalie Kerr enjoys her morning snack before starting her reading minutes in Sherry Hatfields class. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Shasta School first-grade teacher Sherry Hatfield was initially skeptical about the “Breakfast in the Classroom” program.

After all, she had too much to do each morning, especially with 30 youngsters in the room.

Hatfield, who has been teaching at that grade level for the past four years – she’s a long-time teacher at the school – had the daily housekeeping chores of taking attendance along with the lunch count and collecting homework. On top of that, she had to dole out the granola bar, string cheese, green apple, graham crackers and milk from Universal Breakfast.

That’s what students were served on Thursday morning. They chomped down on the locally-grown apples provided by the Manteca Unified School District’s Nutrition Services.

Many enjoyed the string cheese.

“You might not think of string cheese as a breakfast item but it has plenty of protein,” said Stephanie Huff, who is a Nutrition Service supervisor in charge of several sites in the district including Shasta.

Those opting out of “Breakfast in the Classroom” took part in the reading assignment.

Hatfield soon discovered that this program was really a blessing in disguise. Her students stayed quiet during those 15 minutes of enjoying a nutritional breakfast. In turn, she took care of the housekeeping chores with very few distractions.

“I found out it doesn’t take away from my day,” Hatfield said.

Students with allergies to certain foods or on special diets were given instructions on those matters beforehand to Nutrition Services. “If they’re lactose intolerant, they can have water instead of milk,” Huff said.

Any leftover foods are saved for later in the day.

“It used to be that students, by 11 a.m. or 11:30, would say ‘I’m hungry,’” said Hatfield, who usually has a fruit or healthy snack item readily available.

She indicated that her youngsters enjoyed the fresh fruits. “We might have three apples leftover from breakfast,” Hatfield said.

Principal Audrey Greene applauds the “Breakfast in Classroom” program.

“So many studies show that students are more receptive to instruction with a good breakfast,” she said.

Shasta is in its first year in the program.

Under the Universal Breakfast model, all students are eligible for the meal at no charge regardless of income.

Each day, Nutrition Services delivers the breakfast items directly to each classroom.

Besides Shasta, Brock Elliott, Golden West, Joshua Cowell, Lathrop Elementary, Lincoln, Sequoia, and Walter Woodward do “Breakfast in the Classroom.”

Added Huff: “We’re hoping to bring it to the high schools.”

Greens noted that students also learn about responsibility. “They’re in charge of cleaning up their area (after breakfast),” she said.

Nutrition Services provides all of the cleaning materials, from wipes to trash bags.

Along with the improved readiness to learn, studies reveal that good nutritional breakfast contributes to improved attendance and reduced tardiness.

“It’s the most important meal of the day,” said Huff.

For the most part, schools involved in “Breakfast in the Classroom” are federally reimbursed for each meal served. The amount depends on whether the student is eligible for free, reduced-price, or full-price meals, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

Those sites with high concentrations of free and reduced-price eligible students can offer breakfast in the classroom free to all students.

The menu, consisting of milk, graham, fresh fruit, and entrée items, changes daily.

During this past week, MUSD students, for example, received a honey bun on Monday, assorted muffin on Tuesday and Friday, and strawberry fruit and grain bar on Wednesday. The assorted grahams are whole grain as are all granola bars.

The district is in its third year of “Breakfast in the Classroom.”

Huff, who noted that Sequoia was only site served that first year, has seen a steady growth of the breakfast program.

“We’re at 80.4 percent this year,” she said. “Compare that to a year ago when we were at 16.2 percent.”

That’s 827 served in the 2012-13 school year in comparison to 137 from a year earlier. Besides Shasta, Woodward, Joseph Widmer, Joshua Cowell and Brock Elliott are also in their first year in the program.

Meanwhile, Hatfield provided the reading assignment for that morning along with some simple instructions posted on the overhead screen as her first-graders spent those first 15 minutes in the classroom enjoying breakfast: “Eat, read and color.”

Her students complied, staying quiet as they gnawed away on their apple or shredded apart their string cheese.