WENATCHEE — School is starting 15 minutes earlier at three Wenatchee elementary schools this year to provide some extra time for breakfast — after the bell.
“Breakfast After the Bell,” part of a state law in effect this year, requires schools with 70% or more of their students qualifying for free and reduced meals to provide breakfast after the start of the school day.
The 2019-20 school year begins Tuesday in Wenatchee.
Columbia, Mission View and Lewis & Clark school administrators have opted to change the bell schedule to provide extra time for the classroom meal. A fourth school, Lincoln, also is participating in the program, but did not alter its start-time.
Previously, the schools provided free breakfast for all students, but it was served in the cafeterias before school started. Now, the morning meal will be served in the classrooms at all four schools.
That means a change of operation for the district’s food services department, with the purchase of carts that can be wheeled right into the classroom for quick delivery.
Food Services Director Chris Lutgen said he expects the new program to increase participation which, in turn, will help students perform better in school, with better attendance, fewer trips to the nurse’s office with a stomachache or headache, and better focus.
The district’s other elementary schools — Newbery, Sunnyslope and Washington — which don’t meet the requirements for the new program, will continue to offer traditional breakfast before school. Foothills Middle School students also continue to have before-school breakfast.
Orchard and Pioneer middle school students and Wenatchee High School and WestSide students have access to the traditional before-school breakfast, plus “Grab & Go” breakfasts between morning classes.
Those “second chance” breakfasts previously were piloted at Wenatchee and WestSide high schools, earning the district a “champions of breakfast” award last year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service. The option helps students who simply aren’t ready to eat first thing in the morning.
The guidelines provided by the state superintendent’s office say the “Washington Kids Ready to Learn Act” of 2018 reduces barriers created by transportation issues as well.
The Eastmont School District has two elementary schools that qualify for the breakfast-after-the-bell program — Rock Island and Lee. The programs have been operating there for more than five years, so nothing will have to change this year, said Eastmont Food Service Director Susie Howard, who manages the school food services contract for Sodexo.
She said the program is a hit, even with teachers who were skeptical.
“We had some teachers who at first were, ‘I don’t think so,’” she said. “But they’ve come around. I think the majority of teachers see how it benefits the students because they get nutrition in their bellies and are ready to start focusing.”
Teachers take enrollment, answer questions and do other routine matters while students eat.
“I’ve seen third and fourth grade teachers review multiplication tables while the students are finishing breakfast,” she said. “It’s not wasted time and becomes part of the routine.”
The number of students participating in the breakfast climbed dramatically after it became part of the school day. Lee went from 36% of students showing up for breakfast before school to 62 percent participating now. Rock Island went from 37% to 72%, and for a couple of years was in the 81% range.
She said the school custodians were a harder sell, perhaps more so than the teachers.
She eased their concerns by striking a deal.
“I promised I would not send out anything with syrup,” she said. That means using a French toast stick and banana pancakes that are little sweeter than other options, but don’t give the custodians fits.