It's becoming more common that the first lesson of the school day is about food. This week, Hillside Elementary and two other schools in Omaha's Westside District are joining the trend of moving breakfast into the classroom.
Previously, breakfast was served on a tray in the cafeteria, but statistics indicated this didn’t take the effort far enough. By eating in the classroom, studies show alertness and attendance go up while behavior problems decrease. Kids tend to be on time and are calmer and more focused.
It's something we've seen become more prevalent in Omaha Public Schools and Papillion-La Vista schools in just the last few weeks. Breakfast is already available in these districts, but with so few families taking advantage of it, schools are trying to get the food directly in front of the students so they have no excuse to not eat.
“Only 20 percent of our kids who qualify for free and reduced breakfast take advantage of having that breakfast and breakfast being the most important meal of the day is important to get into the habit of eating,” says Westside Community Schools Nutrition Services Director Diane Zipay.
Hillside is giving out free breakfast to all students just for this launch week. After that, it will cost $1.30 for most students and 30 cents for those who qualify for the reduced rate and obviously no cost for any student who qualifies for free school meals. This is different than OPS because since it has a higher percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced meals, the district can afford to give every student a free breakfast.
"I believe that this is something that's going to be embraced,” says Zipay. “I've done a lot of work, I’ve visited districts where they're doing it and the teachers seem to love it and say it makes a real difference in the concentration for their kids during the morning hours and the referrals to the nurse."
Teachers needed convincing, concerned about the distraction. "This is somewhat of a hard sell. Teachers are worried about losing instructional minutes, they're worried about having a mess in their classroom and it's one more thing added to their day and I really understand that, so we're trying to make this as easy and as seamless as we possibly can."
WOWT 6 News checked into other districts around the country that let students eat in class and on average, 66 percent of teachers are okay with the idea. To minimize the mess, breakfasts do not include syrup or juice.
Schools in places like New York have cut these programs out because some kids take the meals no matter what and end up overeating.
Officials here believe the effort is worth it, to make sure students get the nutrition they need. "My mom, she always works in the morning and she prefers us eating breakfast not at home ‘cause it barely gives us time,” says Hillside Elementary fourth-grader Esther Ortiz.
District 66 plans to expand the program to other schools if it all works out.