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Breakfast offered in classrooms in several county schools

Pre-k student Christopher Fretwell enjoys his breakfast inside Mrs. Grimes classroom at Tharptown Elementary.
Pre-k student Christopher Fretwell enjoys his breakfast inside Mrs. Grimes classroom at Tharptown Elementary.

Thanks to a new program, students in several schools in the Franklin County School System are now able to enjoy breakfast each school day right in their classrooms.

According to Amy Gunderman, FCS child nutrition program director, students at Phil Campbell High School, Phil Campbell Elementary School, Tharptown High School, Tharptown Elementary School, Vina High School and East Franklin Junior High School are all taking part in the Universal Breakfast program, which allows the students to enjoy school breakfast in their classrooms each morning free of charge.

Gunderman said the program was first implemented at the beginning of the school year to students at PCHS who were having to eat their meals at the churches where they had been meeting for classes while the new high school was completed.

“Offering it to these students made sense because, first of all, it was ensuring more students had the option to have a healthy breakfast, and second, it was easier on the cafeteria worker transporting the food since she would not have to worry about taking up money from the reduced and paid students.”

Gunderman said the program was soon offered to PCES and increased their breakfast participation at both schools from 117 students to 687.

Once word about the new breakfast program spread, Gunderman said she was contacted by THS principal Barry Laster and TES principal Ann Scott, who wanted to implement the program at their schools.

The average combined participation rate for both schools went from an average of 280-300 students a day eating breakfast to 696 the first day the free breakfast was offered.

“My teachers and students love it,” Scott said. “It gives the opportunity for all students to eat because it is served in the classroom. A lot of children in our community needed this program.”

After Tharptown began the program, Vina principal James Pharr decided to start Universal Breakfast with his students. The participation at Vina for breakfast at school in the cafeteria was around 125 daily on average and has increased to an average of 300 a day eating in the classrooms.

Teddy Humphres, VHS math teacher, said he has noticed his students make an extra effort to get to class early so they have longer to eat the breakfast. He also said that students seem to be more alert in the mornings as well.

Gunderman said EFJH principal Nancy Hallman was the most recent to implement the program at her school. Since beginning the program on Sept. 2, EFJH went from averaging 80-100 students eating breakfast each day to 225 the first day of having breakfast in the classroom.

Gunderman said the breakfast program is funded through the USDA and offered to schools that have a high percentage of free and reduced lunch students.

Vaughn said the program has been a cooperative effort between each school administrator, staff member and cafeteria worker because they all know the benefits that can come from having students who have had a proper breakfast each morning.

“The way we have this program set up, it is a little extra work for the cafeteria workers and the teachers, yet I have had very little complaints,” she said.

“Just like the teachers, my cafeteria ladies are working in schools because they love children. Our students are the reason we are here. They want all the kids to be able to learn, and I appreciate the hard work they have done to make this so successful.

“Franklin County has 40 CNP workers county-wide and they work hard to take care of our kids’ nutritional needs with the limitations and regulations placed on them.”

Gunderman said she fully believes in this program and the positive impact it will have on the county’s students.

“Many children do not eat a nutritious breakfast every morning and offering breakfast to these students at no charge will help families in our area,” Gunderman said.

“I was a classroom home economics teacher for 17½ years, and I always kept a plastic box in my classroom with breakfast snacks in it for kids who came to school hungry. I know how hard some kids have it, and I have seen it firsthand and heard the stories from kids in my classes. This is what makes me so passionate about my job as the child nutrition director. I want to feed as many kids as I can, system-wide and make sure the kids of Franklin County get a healthy breakfast and lunch. I believe 100 percent that if a child is hungry, they cannot learn.

“Studies have concluded that students who eat school breakfast at the start of the school day show a general increase in math and reading scores as well as improvements in their speed and memory in cognitive tests.

“Children who eat breakfast at school, closer to class and test-taking time, perform better on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast. The students have an opportunity to eat more fruit and drink more milk.

“Schools that offer breakfast free to all students in the classroom report decreases in discipline and behavior problems, visits to school nurses and tardiness; increases in student attentiveness and attendance; and generally improved learning environments.

“Much of this has already been noted in the participating schools since the start of the program on Aug. 11, and we believe it will continue to be a positive thing for our schools and our students.”