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Lockwood Schools are encouraging all 1,200 students to start their days by eating at their desks.

Breakfast in the Classroom started last year as a pilot project for grades 3-5. The result was an increase in students eating breakfast at school. Building on that success, Lockwood expanded the program to grades K-8 this year. In the first two weeks of the new school year, about 400 students have been eating breakfast.

“That’s 120 kids who are getting fed more than last year,” said Kandi Phillips, who manages Lockwood food service for Sodexo.

Now the cafeteria is empty at breakfast time. Children can stay on the playground till the bell rings and still eat a nutritious breakfast.

“The kids don’t have to pick between playing and eating, they can just play,” said Don Christman, Lockwood special services director. Providing breakfast in the classroom may encourage more physical activity.

Classroom deliveries

A wall of the cafeteria is lined with 42 blue and white, 60-quart rolling coolers, each marked with a teacher’s name and a roster of students whose parents have requested breakfast for their kids. Sodexo staff members wheel coolers to every K-2 classroom. Student volunteers from higher grades fetch the coolers, which were purchased with a grant from a privately funded breakfast program initiated by Gov. Steve Bullock. Middle school students choose breakfast items at stations outside their classrooms.

The breakfast cooler is part of the morning routine in Joel Rogers’ third-grade classroom. One morning last week, as students walked into the room, Rogers reminded them to grab their breakfasts, and most headed for the cooler before they sat down. Then they got out books, pencils and paper and started reading or otherwise organizing their desks while munching on cereal bars and string cheese or sipping milk or apple juice.

On that morning, breakfast was a cup of apple juice, string cheese and a package of Scooby Doo grahams. Sodexo employees pack the individually packaged food items in plastic zip bags. Students may also have a carton of milk.

Well-nourished children are more attentive in class, perform better academically and have fewer doctor visits, according to USDA, the major funder of school meal programs. Breakfast in Lockwood costs $1.25 at regular student price or 30 cents at the reduced rate. Last year, 53 percent of Lockwood student qualified for free or reduce-price lunches.

Christman said parents are also welcome to send food from home for their students’ breakfasts.

Better behavior

Breakfast in the Classroom is just one of several ways Lockwood Schools work to ensure that their students are well nourished. Nearly 600 students a day eat school lunches. A limited grant will allow the school to restart a fruit and vegetable snack program in October. Middle School science teacher Eric Karls established a student food pantry. About 75 students take home backpacks filled with food every weekend, thanks to a Wells Fargo grant and advice from registered dietitians who donate their time to local school nutrition improvement. Last spring, the schools offered to connect needy families with food assistance from Family Service Inc. Six families accepted the offer of summer groceries, which Family Service Inc. delivered to the school administration building weekly.

In Rogers’ classroom, the bell rings at 7:55 a.m. By 8:10 a.m., students have finished eating, recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and settled by into their desks.

This is the second year for breakfast in Rogers’ classroom. “I can’t say it’s all Breakfast in the Classroom, but there was an overall reduction in behavior,” the teacher said.

Schools across the United States have put more thought into breakfast since the USDA issued nutrition standards in 2012. All school meals have become healthier with students being offered more whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, and less sodium, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Schools play a critical role in demonstrating and reinforcing healthy eating behaviors by making sure that nutritious and appealing foods and beverages are available and promoted to students,” wrote Caitlin Merlo, M.P.H., health scientist in CDC’s School Health Branch. “This is particularly important because children’s eating patterns carry into adulthood.”

In Lockwood, students are learning healthy lifetime habits, starting with Breakfast in the Classroom.

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