Breakfast in the Classroom – a home run for Jessup students

VIDEO: Breakfast in the Classroom – a home run for Jessup students
Posted on 02/27/2018
VIDEO: Breakfast in the Classroom – a home run for Jessup students

By Reesha Brown
PISD Communications

Two-time World Series Champ and former Astros center fielder Hunter Pence returned to his Texas roots recently to champion the Breakfast in the Classroom program at Jessup Elementary.

The program offers free grab and go breakfast to students to help them start each day on a positive note.

Pence and his wife, Alexis, spent a morning watching the program in action while also teaching students the importance of a balanced breakfast.

“If I’m a student and I’m eating in the cafeteria with all this chaos around me versus being in my seat and eating, I think there’s a lot of strength in humans when they feel comfortable,” Pence said. “Those are just two things I like about the program.”

The program is designed for convenience and efficiency. Child Nutrition staff prepare breakfast bags and place them in mobile kiosks. The kiosks are delivered to each hallway and distributed to groups of students. Students grab a bag and eat with the teachers inside the classroom before instruction begins.

“Every kid is offered a meal and everyone eats together,” Pence said.

The entire process takes about 25 minutes from the time students arrive to clean up time.

Breakfast options range from whole grain French toast sticks to tacos and sausage bisquits – all of which were chosen by various students as breakfast favorites during a series of taste test focus groups earlier in the year.

Jessup first grade teacher Cora Rivers said she prefers breakfast in the classroom to traditional mornings that were spent in the cafeteria.

“It was always a rush for them,” Rivers said. “They get their food and then they have to rush to the classroom. But now, they come in and they enjoy classical music and I can read to them while they’re eating. I get to teach them about manners, or if they make a spill, how to clean it up and use utensils instead of their hands.”

Participation in the program has reached roughly 500 students, up hundreds since it started at Jessup in 2014.

For a school where 94 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, breakfast is not always guaranteed in the morning; which is why Principal Ryan Pavone considers this the home run of school meal programs.

“We have a lot of parents who work multiple jobs and may not have the time or the money to provide breakfast for their child,” Pavone said. “This guarantees that if a child wants breakfast, they can get it.”

The school has seen a tremendous improvement in discipline since the program started due to more one-on-one time between students and their teachers, where they learn proper dining etiquette and the importance of cleanliness. School officials have even noticed a decrease in tardiness.  

“They’re learning skills that they may not learn at home or during lunch – how to pay attention to what they’re supposed to be doing and not making a mess. When you’re eating in the cafeteria, you’re not being monitored that well, whereas if you are in a classroom, you have the teacher who is really watching what the kids are doing and coaching them along the way,” Pavone said.

“We have a no tardy party for every kid who was able to make it school on time,” said Pavone. “We think we had over 500 kids able to attend the party.”

Jessup is among 14 elementary and high schools in the district that have opted to offer an alternative breakfast program.

The district’s Child Nutrition department encourages all campuses to try it out in hopes that their experience is as beneficial for families as it has been for Jessup.

“Our breakfast in the classroom program has allowed our employees to get more hours,” Mary Harryman, the district’s Child Nutrition director. “We’re able to retain more employees and some staff have been able to quit their second jobs. Breakfast at school benefits everyone – students, teachers, and staff. It is a great program.”

Impressed by the efficiency of the district’s breakfast in the classroom program, Hunter and his wife, are hopeful that other schools across the nation implement this program.

“There was an amazing sense of community in the classroom.  By the time we left, those 23 lively kids had transformed into attentive students, ready to learn. Making breakfast part of the regular school day has a powerful effect on kids.”