In the year since Englewood's Clayton Elementary implemented an in-class breakfast program, the number of students who eat at school jumped so high that it earned a state award. But the real benefit, administrators say, is in the effect it has had in the classroom.
"Teachers are reporting increased participation and attention from students and a dramatic increase in endurance," said principal Nikki Westfall. "Our families are happier too. They are reporting much less stressful mornings."
The in-class breakfast model is not new to the state, or even the metro area, but Colorado is trying to expand it through the No Kid Hungry campaign, which includes an awards program for schools that serve breakfast to more kids.
At Clayton, breakfast participation in 2011 reached about 90 percent of students, with an average of 405 breakfasts served daily, up from about 91 breakfasts served per day in April 2010.
That increase earned the school a Gold award in the Colorado School Breakfast Challenge.
The award, which came with a $5,000 gift, was presented by Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia on Tuesday.
Besides knowing more kids have had breakfast, and using anecdotal data to monitor classroom behaviors, Clayton officials compared data from August through December in 2010 and 2011 and found that student tardies dropped by 15 percent. Discipline referrals dropped by 50 percent.
Officials working throughout the state as consultants to help schools find grants and change their breakfast programs have noticed similar results.
"When schools move to a universal breakfast program, we have seen it removes the stigmas associated with eating breakfast. School nurse visits and behavioral problems drop," said Kathy Underhill, executive director of Hunger Free Colorado, one of the organizations supporting the No Kid Hungry project.
Underhill said programs also are trying to serve healthier foods.
At Clayton, kids get a piece of fruit, a carton of milk and an entree such as a nutrition bar or cereal bar.
Westfall said she plans to use the award money to develop health-and-wellness classes that can be tied to the breakfast program. Some of the funds will also be used to purchase additional insulated food bags and carts so that when the school expands by a grade level next year, those kids could also eat breakfast in class.
The program's startup cost came from about $6,000 in grants, a sum managers say is an investment that pays off in real dollars and in student outcomes.
"I'm a big believer that if we're serious about ed reform, we will have to look at making sure children are fed," Underhill said. "It's not an either/or. If you have not eaten, your mind is not there in the classroom."
Yesenia Robles: 303-954-1372 or firstname.lastname@example.org