Denver students start the day strong with “Breakfast in the Classroom”

“Show me those muscles,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said as he flexed his right arm to a group of students at Ellis Elementary School.  The child across from him happily copied his pose.  This wasn’t gym class, but instead breakfast time inside Amy Woolridge’s kindergarten classroom.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock shows the power of breakfast at Ellis Elementary, Dec. 11

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock shows the power of breakfast at Ellis Elementary, Dec. 11

Hancock chatted with students eating at their tables to impress upon them that a strong body starts with a healthy breakfast.  The Mayor knows too well that good food is missing in the morning routine of too many American children.

“I know firsthand what it’s like to come to school and not have eaten in the morning,” Hancock told Woolridge’s class.  “It’s important that students eat a good, nutritious breakfast so they can hit the ground running.”

Hancock was one of several special guests invited to Ellis, Dec. 11, to recognize the school’s success in providing “Breakfast in the Classroom”.  The national initiative to ensure students eat early so they perform better throughout the day is sponsored in part by the Health Information Network (HIN) of the National Education Association. 

DCTA President Henry Roman endorses “Breakfast in the Classroom” at Ellis Elementary

DCTA President Henry Roman endorses “Breakfast in the Classroom” at Ellis Elementary

“We know that when kids are hungry, they can’t learn because their basic needs are not being met,” said Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, at a school press conference.  DCTA is among several educational, non-profit and corporate partners teaming up to bring free breakfast to all Ellis students and teachers in the classroom.

“This is a great example of how a school and a community come together and work for the greater good so our students truly can focus on learning,” Roman added.

Serving breakfast in school isn’t a new idea, but serving breakfast in the classroom is reaching and feeding more students. 

The HIN’s online School Breakfast Toolkit reports less than half of the students eligible for free and reduced-price school breakfast are eating it.  Many students can’t get to their school in time for breakfast, which typically starts before the official school day.  Students at Ellis now eat breakfast during class time, in conjunction with a morning meeting or other instructional activity.

“It’s beautiful to see our kids smiling in the morning, having breakfast in the classroom with their teachers,” said Ellis Principal Khoa Nguyen.

For many other students, timing wasn’t the issue.  The HIN found “the stigma that only poor students go to the cafeteria for breakfast before school” cause many students to pass up the meal.  “By offering breakfast at no charge to all students,” says HIN, “some of the stigma of eating school breakfast is eliminated.”

An Ellis kindergartener starts the day off right with a healthy breakfast, Dec. 11

An Ellis kindergartener starts the day off right with a healthy breakfast, Dec. 11

Ellis’ first-year program now serves up nearly 600 breakfasts every morning at a convenient time, in the inclusive classroom.  The kindergarten teacher and DCTA member Woolridge sees a big difference in the energy and attentiveness her kids have this year from the class she taught last year.

“It’s a time that they can come together – read their books, eat their breakfast and start the day off positively,” says Woolridge.

“Breakfast in the Classroom” is a novel idea that takes a moment to digest, even for Ellis’ newest and youngest students.

“We talk about that in kindergarten.  Why are we eating breakfast here?” Woolridge said.  “The students came up with, ‘It makes you strong.  It makes you smart.’  And I tell them it does all those things.  It gets your brain ready to learn.”

Teacher Amy Woolridge talks with Tom Boasberg, superintendent of Denver Public Schools, after wrapping up her classroom breakfast

Teacher Amy Woolridge talks with Tom Boasberg, superintendent of Denver Public Schools, after wrapping up her classroom breakfast

Woolridge was skeptical at first about the time a classroom breakfast would take, and the messes it might create, but now she is convinced that a nutritious morning breakfast is crucial to getting her students ready for the day ahead.  Turns out it’s quite necessary for a certain visiting politician to stay on his feet.

 “Just yesterday, I didn’t eat breakfast before I started my day,” Hancock told the kindergarteners.  “One of the security officers had to run out and find me a sandwich because I was about to pass out.

“It doesn’t change as you get bigger,” said Hancock about the need for a healthy breakfast.

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