School breakfast program a success

Deborah Prescott | Daily Press Students in Lisa Gagnon’s kindergarten class start breakfast at the beginning of their school day recently. Every kindergarten through eighth grade student in the Escanaba Area Public Schools received a free breakfast and lunch during the 2018-2019 school year thanks to a program the school board implemented called the Community Eligibility Provision. The program considers the average income of families from individual areas to decide which ones are eligible. Included in the program are the Learning Center and the Escanaba Student Success Center. Food Service Director Nancy LaFave hopes to add fresh options to the menu next school year.

ESCANABA — Nancy LaFave, food service director for Escanaba Area Public Schools (EAPS), and her team have prepared breakfast and lunch for every student from kindergarten through eighth grade at the Learning Center and the Escanaba Student Success Center since the beginning of this school year.

Between Sept. 1, 2017 and April 1, 2018, Escanaba served 31,073 breakfasts to students. The number of students served breakfast increased dramatically this year, with 135,432 breakfasts served between Sept. 1, 2018 through April 1, 2019, for children in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The number of lunches has risen considerably, as well. Between Sept. 1, 2017 and April 1, 2018, 134,827 lunches were served, and during the current school year 220,414 have been served.

The increases are due to a program called the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).

In June 2018, LaFave brought a program to the school board that would allow the school district to offer breakfast and lunch at no cost to students. The federally funded program is based on the average income of families according to each campus as a whole, not individual family incomes. After hearing LaFave’s presentation, the school board approved implementing the program.

The CEP aided Escanaba in providing free breakfast to students for the first time, with reimbursments to the district coming from the United States Department of Agriculture. Through the CEP, lunches are provided free, without students completing paperwork as was needed in previous school years. Younger students — those in kindergarten through sixth grades — sat at their desks while breakfast was brought to them. Teachers decided how to structure the breakfast times. There were no strict rules according to LaFave.

“The breakfast program has had a huge impact on our students. It is available to every student and is ready when they arrive in the classroom. They no longer have to worry about a late bus, or coming in off the playground to have breakfast,” said Lemmer Elementary Principal Matt Johnson-Reeves. “Teachers have been pleasantly surprised that almost all students will eat something ensuring they are off to a great start to the day. We’ve put together a good system and students are able to eat and drink milk, etc. while doing classroom tasks like signing up for lunch and getting ready for the day. Many teachers also use the time to have discussions with students surrounding our new social emotional curriculum, ‘The Leader in Me’ lessons, to start the day during breakfast time. It has been very positive and is one of the best things we’ve been able to do to help students and families.”

LaFave spoke with other school districts using the program before starting it in Escanaba and knew there was going to be some bumps along the way in the begining. She gives all the credit for the program’s success to her team and says without their dedication it would not have worked out the way it has. Logistics, preparation and attention to detail all go into getting meals out to students every day.

According to the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) Office of Health and Nutrition Services there were 3,024 schools statewide that served breakfast and 3,335 schools that served lunch in the 2018-2019 school year. Free breakfast is offered in 1,463 schools statewide, or 44 percent of schools. MDE Office of Health and Nutrition Services Director Diane Golzynski believes schools can do better and the percentage should be higher.

Third grade students in the Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District have a 48 percent math proficiency when testing math skills using the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP). That is two percent higher than the statewide proficiency of 46 percent. Golzynski and Escanaba educators are interested to see how students test in future years with the addition of the breakfast program.

The recent decision by the Escanaba School Board to discontinue the food service agreement between Bark River-Harris Schools and EAPS will provide LaFave more time to focus on the nutrition requirements for Escanaba students. LaFave plans on adding to the programs already provided.

“As a district, we’ve experienced a huge boost in the food service we provide to students,” said EAPS Superintendent Coby Fletcher. Some of the benefits are easy to quantify: kids are getting nutritious meals, which helps their academic readiness, improves their overall state wellness, and strengthens their sense of well-being. Other benefits are more subtle. We have students who no longer need to stress over food availability in school, which allows them to focus more on what happens in the classroom. We’ve also seen the positive social and emotional impact that comes from the connections children forge when they eat together, which has improved the dynamics among students. All in all, we are very happy with our participation in the Community Eligibility Provision program and view it as a valuable service we are able to provide to the Escanaba community.”

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