March 7, 2019
By Dr. Paul Cruz, superintendent, Austin Independent School District
Dr. Paul Cruz is the superintendent of the Austin Independent School District (AISD). Under his leadership, the Austin ISD graduation rate is at an all-time high — outperforming the state and nation — with two-thirds of AISD graduates enrolling directly into college.
Pop quiz: How are more low-income children in the Austin school district starting their day well-nourished and ready to learn?
The answer: school breakfast.
This school year, 52 schools in the Austin Independent School District — including elementary, middle, and high schools — are offering breakfast in the classroom to make the meal more accessible for all students. Breakfast in the classroom helps overcome barriers of timing and convenience, and because it is offered free of charge to all AISD students, it eliminates the stigma associated with school breakfast being only for low-income children.
Each morning, cafeteria staff prepares and delivers both cold and hot breakfast items to classrooms. Breakfast always includes healthy protein and grain options, and fresh fruit a minimum of three times a week. Hot and cold items are packed in separate thermal bags to ensure food safety and quality. The staff begins delivering the breakfast items 15 minutes before school starts so the food is in the classroom when the children arrive. Napkins and trash bags are delivered to facilitate easy cleanup.
If students have already eaten breakfast at home, they don’t have to take any of the items offered that day. That said, many children don’t eat breakfast at home before school for a number of reasons — a long commute, jam-packed schedule, or simply because there is no food at home. The latter reason is true for more children than we’d like to admit. More than half of AISD students — 56 percent — receive free and reduced-price lunch, considered a proxy for the number of of low-income students within the district, and one in four children in Travis County — our county — struggles with food insecurity.
By serving breakfast in the classroom, students can eat during the first 10–15 minutes of class during morning announcements or while the teacher takes attendance and collects homework. The meal time spent together in the classroom also provides an opportunity for building better relationships between students and teachers, a critical factor in ensuring student success and a strong school community.
Research shows that students who eat breakfast see gains in academic achievement, especially in math. Improved attendance, concentration, and comprehension, as well as fewer reported behavioral issues in the classroom, are all associated with school breakfast. Eating breakfast has even been linked with fewer morning visits to the school nurse.
After Akins High School began offering breakfast in the classroom to all students in the 2016–2017 school year, breakfast participation increased to 50 percent, up from 15 percent in 2015. Attendance increased by a full percentage point, and the school has seen a marked decrease in morning behavior issues, largely because students no longer congregate in the courtyards or halls. Instead, when they arrive, they head to their classrooms to eat breakfast.
To ensure students are not going hungry and have access to nutritious food, 43 AISD schools have adopted the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) this school year. CEP is a federal program that allows high-needs schools to provide breakfast and lunch to all students at no cost, and it has made a big difference in the health and learning of children who often complained of stomachaches and had difficulty focusing in the classroom because they did not have enough to eat.
School breakfast, as well as school lunch, gives families, children, and educators peace of mind. Increasing participation in these programs is an important step toward making sure that all children in Austin, and across the state of Texas, get the nutrition they need to succeed in the classroom.
AISD’s breakfast in the classroom expansion efforts were funded by Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom.