Two years ago Michigan’s state school superintendent Mike Flanagan set out a challenge to schools participating in the National School Lunch Program: Increase student participation in the school breakfast program by at least 50 percent.
Morenci was among more than 200 districts that met Flanagan’s challenge.
Food service worker Cheryl Kutzley said she and elementary school dean of students Mary Fisher visited a school district two years ago that offered “universal breakfast”—a free morning meal to all students.
“That sounded unbelievable to me,” Kutzley told board of education members Dec. 6, but it also sounded very good.
Morenci launched its own breakfast program at the elementary school in October 2008, starting first with a trial month to see how it worked out in practice.
Students liked it, teachers liked it, and it wasn’t costing the district a cent.
Before Morenci’s program got underway, 29 percent of the district’s students qualifying for free meals and 13 percent qualifying for reduced price meals were eating breakfast at school. Now the numbers have increased to 51 and 58 percent.
“We are considered severe need because we’re over 50 percent free and reduced,” Kutzley said, referring to the percentage of the school district’s families that qualify.
Kutzley knows that not all parents are pleased with every items served, but the program operates with what can be obtained through the National School Lunch Program.
“We do what we can,” she said.
Her first preference is to order reduced-sugar cereal and whole grain Pop Tarts. A cheese stick is also served. The beverages served this year are still 100 percent juice, but the new packaging provides shelf-stable juice without refrigeration. Fresh fruit is served when available. Some new items will be tried next year.
Kutzley said some students save an item for later and that’s fine with her.
“Whatever we can do to keep them full,” she told the board.
“We knew there were free and reduced families out there, but I never realized the magnitude until we started this,” she said. “It is a lot of work, but we have to do it. There’s a big, big need for it.”
The most the district pays is 85 cents per breakfast, but reimbursement covers the entire cost.
The universal breakfast is in its second year at the elementary school and this is the first year for the middle school. A greater variation is served at the middle school since to the kitchen facilities are on site.
Superintendent Michael Osborne said it’s very impressive the way the teachers and other staff members have embraced the program, despite the extra work involved.
“It is a lot of work,” Kutzley said, “but there’s a need so we’re happy to do it.”
Morenci was the first district in the county to offer universal breakfast, Fisher said, and there are still very few following suit. Representatives from Sand Creek recently visited to take a look, Kutzley said, so that district may give it a try.
School board member Phil McCaskey encouraged parents to investigate the free and reduced program. Pride might make it difficult to fill out the form, he said, but no one chooses to face economic hardship through lay-off.
Students who have a good breakfast have been found to:
• Score better on standardized tests;
• Show improved academic acheivement;
• Have fewer health issues;
• Behave better in class.