A BREAKFAST AFTER THE BELL CASE STUDY
MEET LIVINGSTON PARISH PUBLIC SCHOOLS (Louisiana)
In July 2016, food service staff from Livingston Parish Public Schools in Louisiana attended a workshop held by the Partners for BIC that shared information on grants and support available through the initiative. The Livingston Parish staff banked much of the information they gathered, thinking that it sounded like a great program, but they weren’t sure it would work for them at the time.
One month later, Livingston, located about halfway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, was struck with devastating flooding, with more than 96 percent of the parish flooded, impacting approximately 26,000 students enrolled at more than 40 schools. With school just about to start, the district knew the community would be facing major challenges. Schools were under water, and many families, including those of school staff, were homeless.
Schools were closed for 21 days, and as school leaders worked and planned to reopen schools, they discovered that the flooding’s impact on families had qualified the district for the Community Eligibility Provision. This would allow the district to offer free breakfast, as well as lunch, to all students. Staff realized that offering breakfast at no charge and after the bell would maximize participation in the program.
With guidance from Partners for BIC, Livingston Parish district administration and food service staff were able to engage stakeholders (such as teachers and education support professionals, families, and others in the community) in the planning process to roll out a successful breakfast after the bell program.
Livingston Parish’s path to success with breakfast after the bell led to one of its schools, North Corbin Junior High, winning the Louisiana Breakfast Challenge award for the largest increase in breakfast participation in the state!
When Sommer Purvis, then the district’s assistant food service director and now the administrator of special programs for child nutrition, first learned about the Partners for BIC initiative in 2016, she knew breakfast after the bell was the right thing for her district to do.
Once the district was ready to move ahead, the school district stakeholders worked together to assess what was needed for the district to start the program.
At the heart of the Partners for BIC approach to expanding school breakfast is the principle that success requires engaging stakeholders early. Affiliates from all of the organizations in Partners for BIC helped to bring everyone to the table. This included the Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana Association of Principals, the Louisiana School Nutrition Association, and Louisiana Appleseed. In fact, this stakeholder engagement had started long before Livingston Parish was looking to implement breakfast after the bell. Since 2016, the Louisiana Association of Educators had been working to raise awareness of the grant opportunities among National Education Association (NEA) locals across the state.
To build support, Purvis and her team of food service staff approached school principals across the district to see which of them might be interested in taking on this new challenge. Principals at two schools, North Corbin Junior High and Walker Elementary School, indicated that they were willing to move forward. Carolyn Vosburg, principal of North Corbin, says, “The need at the time for our children and the people of our community for basic needs, such as food, was so high that any way I could do that for our children … I just needed to figure out the logistics.” Vosburg’s positive attitude helped staff feel more confident as well. Though many of them had doubts, they knew it was important for students to be eating. “You always have reservations about things,” says Vosburg. “They wanted us to bring food into the classroom with middle schoolers? We were like, ‘It’s going to be a mess,’ you know. But I figured more kids will be eating doing it this way .”
BREAKFAST IS SERVED
Districtwide, it was understood that moving breakfast into the classroom would mean changes for everyone in the school. It would change how food service staff, custodians, and educators all did their jobs. But the stakeholder engagement process was thorough in laying out the roles everyone had to play and making sure everyone understood those roles.
With support from the Partners for BIC, the district food service developed a plan, which included identifying the extra resources needed to implement this new approach. For Livingston, this meant the purchase of large equipment (like refrigerators and freezers) and small pieces (like serving bags and rolling carts). This process also helped the district recognize that it needed additional staffing. Knowing that it can take a couple of months to get the increased reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cover additional staffing costs, Livingston used part of the Partners for BIC grant to cover two months of salary for an additional part-time food service staff member. This meant that the program could get off to a smooth start with all available hands on deck.
Because each school is unique and because breakfast after the bell is not a one-size-fits-all model, Livingston food service staff in each school worked out the best processes for preparing, packing, and distributing breakfast. At North Corbin Junior High, the food service staff do some of the packaging the day before and finish up early the next morning by packing the individual bags. This includes hot items several days a week. These bags are loaded onto carts (called kiosks), which are then rolled to three locations in the school. This means that all of the more than 700 students can easily grab their breakfast upon arrival and then proceed to their classroom to eat it.
One common concern shared by many was how to manage the trash. No one wanted food waste sitting in the classrooms all day. The stakeholders decided to pack the individual meals in bags that could double as personal trash bags. These bags are then placed in a bin that can be moved easily to the hallway. The custodians can pick up the bin without interruption to instruction.
TEACHER AND PARAEDUCATORS
In the classrooms, teachers and paraeducators work together to create a pleasant eating environment. With breakfast taking about 10–15 minutes, teachers and staff seek to create a family-style atmosphere where students can talk with each other and with the staff in a more relaxed way. Tracy Carlisle, a teacher in the school, says, “It’s a nice relaxed atmosphere … They are able to eat. They’re able to talk.”
As with any new initiative, particularly one of the scale that Livingston Parish undertook, there will be challenges. Livingston Parish understood that it was important to address those challenges upfront. One of the biggest was helping people to understand what breakast after the bell would look like. A team of Livingston stakeholders was able to visit other local districts, bringing back and sharing what they learned with their colleagues.
They also were able to draw on the many Partners for BIC tools and resources to find ways to help the program run smoothly. In a nod to the district’s preparedness, teacher Tammy McCaskill says, “I feel like our biggest challenge never happened.”
The impact of the program is ongoing. In the first year, the district saw significant increases in participation in the breakfast program. For example, one school saw its participation in breakfast jump from 35 percent to 80 percent. And with increased participation came increased revenue — one school saw an increase in revenue of $150,000 in one year. Over the first two years, the district expanded participation levels to bring in an additional $900,000 in breakfast revenue just in the schools implementing breakfast after the bell. These kinds of increases helped the district’s food service operate in the financial black.
In addition to the monetary impact, teachers and other staff reported that students were not hungry, and that, as a result, there were improvements in their behavior. When asked how eating breakfast has helped make a difference, one student replied, “I’m not as grumpy in the mornings.”
One of the biggest impacts seen in the district is the relationships that have developed between students and food service personnel. Purvis reflects on how the program has helped to change relationships in the school: “The increase in participation is wonderful, but to see some of the kids high-five their cafeteria technician on their way out to breakfast or for a technician to tell somebody ‘Make sure you do good on that test today,’ some of those are the intangible successes we see daily with breakfast in the classroom.” As one student says, “The lunch ladies, they always greet you and say good morning and stuff. … It makes you feel better because it lets you know that somebody cares.”
Winning the Louisiana Breakfast Challenge was seen as a turning point that recognized the hard work that all of the stakeholders in the district had put into their breakfast after the bell program. But it was not the end. The program continues to grow as the district acknowledges that buy-in for this type of system change does not have to be difficult. It just requires focusing on what is best for children.
To keep the program successful, the district recognizes the need to continuously monitor the implementation of, and devote the necessary staff to, the program. For Livingston Parish, breakast after the bell helps the district’s schools address the nutritional needs and academic expectations for their students. It takes a team to make it work. In the words of Gwendolyn Hill, a pre-K teacher who is part of that team, “It’s a joy … and I’m proud to be part of this, to see the kids enjoying the breakfast.”
WORDS OF WISDOM FROM LIVINGSTON PARISH PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO OTHER DISTRICTS CONSIDERING BREAKFAST AFTER THE BELL
“Don’t be skeptical about it. It is so much easier than you ever would have imagined.“6th grade teacher
“Make a plan and do it. It is what is best for children.”Principal
“Ask a lot of questions because you don’t know if you don’t ask.”Food service staff member
“Do it! It’s great! In the beginning, you’re frazzled, but as soon as you work out what a good method is for you, it’s great.”Food service staff member
“It’s a little quirky in the beginning. You have to get all of your things worked out and figure out what works best for you. But in the end, it’s really worth it.”Food service staff member
ABOUT PARTNERS FOR BREAKFAST IN THE CLASSROOM
The Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom (Partners for BIC) is a consortium of national education and nutrition organizations, including the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), the School Nutrition Foundation (SNF), the NEA Foundation, and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Foundation. With the generous support of the Walmart Foundation, Partners for BIC has provided technical assistance and over $11 million in funding to support the implementation of breakfast after the bell models in more than 500 schools in 70 districts, leading to over 100,000 additional children eating a healthy school breakfast since 2010.