District 11 schools look to become ‘breakfast champions’

Breakfast at Adams Elementary School in Coon Rapids was a little out of the ordinary March 7.

Minnesota’s Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius eats with students, chatting about football, the delicious strawberries and more. Photo by Olivia Koester

Minnesota’s Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius eats with students, chatting about football, the delicious strawberries and more. Photo by Olivia Koester

Minnesota’s Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, Sen. Alice Johnson, Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association Executive Director Jon Millerhagen and others went through the cafeteria line and dined with students, who were a little confused by their presence.

Principal Jeremy Tammi explained that state leaders in education and government were at school to launch a breakfast challenge.

He told students to eat up “so we can grow with knowledge and go to …”

“College!” students yelled in unison before scarfing down the rest of their meal and heading off to class.

March 7 marked the launch of the 2014-2015 School Breakfast Challenge, put on by the Minnesota Breakfast Initiative, a partnership between Hunger-Free Minnesota and Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota.

The Minnesota Breakfast Initiative plans to award 60 $2,500 grants to schools across the state, plus a 25-cent incentive for each additional breakfast served to low-income students over the previous year.

The initiative would like to see the money help generate awareness about breakfast at school and implement creative solutions to a time crunch in the morning – incorporating breakfast in the classroom, developing a grab-and-go model, etc.

The initiative hopes that all students take advantage of breakfast at school, but it particularly wants students who qualify for free or reduced meals to get the nourishment they need.

Currently, only 45 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced meals eat breakfast at school in the morning, according to the initiative. That means 29 million meals go unserved each year and school districts lose out on more than $48 million in federal and state reimbursement, according to the initiative.

The gap is much lower at Adams where 89 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced meals eat breakfast at school regularly, according to Allison Bradford, child nutrition programs director for the district.

At Adams, 60 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced meals; that number is higher, closer to 80 percent, at some schools in the district, Superintendent Dennis Carlson said.

Hunger-Free Minnesota and Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota, with financing from the General Mills and Cargill foundations, are teaming up for the second year to find a way to get kids nutrition they need to fuel their learning.

Breakfast positively affects children’s academic performance, attendance and behavior, according to Cassellius. “Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day.”

“This [challenge] is an opportunity to ensure that every child in Minnesota has a full tummy and what they need to be successful,” said Peggy Flanagan, executive director of Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota.

Anoka-Hennepin District 11 wants to get involved.

Ten of its schools have applied for the grant, including Franklin and Lincoln elementary schools in Anoka; University Avenue Elementary School in Blaine; Evergreen Park World Cultures Community School in Brooklyn Center; Monroe Elementary School in Brooklyn Park; Adams, Hamilton, Mississippi and Morris Bye elementary schools in Coon Rapids and Coon Rapids Middle School. At least 40 percent of the population qualifies for free or reduced meals in all of these schools.

The schools will know whether they will receive the grants by mid-April.

“We want to remove as many barriers as possible for kids to eat breakfast in the mornings,” Flanagan said. “We look forward to having Anoka-Hennepin join the ranks of our school breakfast champions.”

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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