Breakfast offered in Sitka School District for all students

It’s often called the most important meal of the day but sometimes kids don’t get the chance to eat breakfast before heading to class. Sitka School District wanted to change that this year and started offering breakfast for all students.

Students and staff walk through the hallway at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School on Monday. (Photo by Ed Ronco/KCAW)
Students and staff walk through the hallway at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School in Sitka. (Photo by Ed Ronco/KCAW)

 

It’s parfait day at Sitka High School and dozens of students have showed up early to grab a bite to eat before the first bell.

One is junior Niki Jeter.

“It’s really good—yogurt berries, granola, yeah,” Jeter says.

She says it’s nice to be able to have the option to get breakfast at school, and to have a quick meal in case she’s in a rush and doesn’t get to eat at home.

“Instead of going to my class hungry and like waiting for lunch to come, and just thinking about when is lunch coming up, it’s nice.”

And that’s the idea. This is the first year the high school has offered breakfast and that Sitka School District has offered it to students at all five of its schools.

Cassee Olin is the district’s business manager. She says in the past few years the district office received requests from principals to provide breakfasts for kids.

“There’s actually a saying in the Alaska School Nutrition Association,” Olin says. “It’s not nutrition unless they eat it and they need to have brain food at the beginning in order to do what they need to do. We try to make sure they’re fed in the mornings and at lunch and  get a good balanced meal so they can perform to what they need to be good successful students.”

With the precarious state of Alaska’s budget, food service is one line item Olin is not worried about. Both breakfast and lunch are funded by federal programs, which cover and subsidize food for low-income students. Olin says the district breaks even on the meals, which cost about half-a-million dollars.

The programs at Baranof and Keet Gooshi Heen elementary schools are also funded by small grants from the White Elephant Thrift Shop, which pays for both the students who receive reduced-cost breakfasts, and also covers some expenses for all other other students.

Over at Baranof, a gaggle of little girls and guys eat yogurt, cereal, and fruit cups in the school’s “breakfast club” classroom.

“Okay, everybody here? One last bite. Good one. Chew that really good and you are ready for learning.”

At Baranof, breakfast has been a long-running program, originally started by counselor Jeanine Brooks and teacher Jessica Christensen, then an AmeriCorps volunteer.

“It was obvious because our school starts so early and some families don’t have the ability to pull off a whole breakfast and catch the bus that we needed to figure out something,” says Brooks.

She says her breakfast club students are less cranky and more ready for school.

Although it’s hectic fitting a meal in between bus drop off and the start of school, Brooks says, “Anecdotally there’s such a clear correlation between having breakfast and having a better day behaviorally, and social-emotionally and academically the kids who come to breakfast do so much better because they get nurturing and community and wake up time and then they have food in their stomachs. It’s the best thing that we do here because it has these nice direct results.”

Back at Sitka High, Chef Jo Michalski is cleaning up from breakfast, which also included egg, cheese, and bacon breakfast burritos, cereal, muffins and fruit – all for $1.50 each. The new addition has been a hit, she says, with 30 to 50 kids eating before school each day. Parfait day is the most popular, though. The high school now allows students to bring their breakfasts to first-period classes.

“They love it, grab a spoon and go.” says Michalski. “Everything’s there for you–you’ve got your grain, you’ve got your fruit, you’ve got your dairy all in a cup.”

And with her parfait in hand and a chocolate muffin for later, Nicki Jeter heads to her American government class.

“I like to have food with me while I’m learning,” says Jeter.

About 100 students eat breakfast at the schools each day. The meal is open to everyone.