Breakfast with Bullock
A throng of Hardin High School broadcast students, school faculty, news media and security people in suits surrounded Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on Monday morning as he went from classroom to classroom to discuss the school breakfast program.
“So how’s that yogurt?” he asked a student. “Is it good?”
School Districts 17H & 1, which include Hardin, Crow Agency and Fort Smith schools, were among 12 educational institutions to receive grant money from Gov. Bullock and First Lady Lisa Bullock’s Montana Breakfast After the Bell initiative. Of the $57,500 grant, the school district received $11,800, which is meant to encourage student participation in morning breakfasts.
“We know that, ultimately, students are going to take advantage of the opportunity,” he said. “It impacts attendance, classroom disruptions and ultimately academic success.”
According to research from Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end childhood hunger, one in five children struggle to find enough to eat. A study released in February 2013 by the organization’s No Kid Hungry campaign states that, on average, students who eat breakfast score 17.5 percent higher in math, attend school 1.5 more days per year and are 20 percent more likely to graduate high school.
The district implemented the school breakfast program in the fall at the behest of Food Service Director Patrice Benjamin, who laid out the plan for a universal breakfast program during an April meeting of the Hardin School Board. Bullock said less than 25 percent of schools have a morning breakfast program after the school bell rings.
The Hardin School District was the only full district listed in a Monday press release on the grant. Bullock said other districts statewide could learn from 17H & 1’s example.
“They’ve done it soup to nuts, meaning from their youngest to their oldest; they said, ‘We’re going to get this done’ and they’re doing it,” Bullock said. “I can go to a lot of other places around the state where they’re still [hesitant], but the commitment of both Patrice and the administration is what drove this.”
Students and teachers said the main benefits of the breakfasts were keeping students sharp for lessons and allowing them time to eat breakfast where there previously was none. The downsides, they said, were that there were too many waffles and Pop Tarts, and some of the students missed visiting in the cafeteria during the morning.
Consumer science teacher Mary Torske told Bullock that students might experience a sugar crash late in the morning, depending on the breakfast, but fewer needed to be disciplined, because people are often less “cranky” after they eat. Overall, she found the program beneficial.
“There’s kids who come in that are hungry,” she said. “If we can put anything in their bellies, that makes a huge difference.”
Implementing the program was a transition for cafeteria workers and teachers.
One food server told Bullock it was “crazy for the first two weeks,” but they have everything under control now. English teacher Laura Lowe said the morning breakfasts started off difficult as she was “one of those paranoid people who didn’t let any food in my room,” but the morning meals were less disruptive than expected.
While gathering with the school’s cafeteria staff for a picture, Bullock thanked them for “making a difference” in the students’ lives.
Following their interview with Bullock, school video production students Alexis Zent and Maddie Flamm went back to get their own breakfasts, as they had missed it during the morning tour of the school.
Bullock said his next stop will be in Lockwood, whose intermediate and middle schools are just starting up a morning program.
Money for the grants was provided with support from Share Our Strength, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Neptune Aviation.