VINTON–Breakfast sales at William Byrd Middle School have increased by 84 percent this school year. That means approximately 4,500 more breakfasts were sold through the close of sales in December than the year before in the same time period.
Cafeteria manager Denise St. Jean and Roanoke County Student Nutrition Coordinator Jaime Estrada attribute that increase to the Second Chance breakfast program which began at WBMS at the start of the school year.
This program gives students the opportunity to dash by the hallway outside the cafeteria between first and second blocks (just before 10 a.m.) to pick up a breakfast which they can eat in the classroom. It is only available for five minutes each day–no longer.
While the school has maintained its traditional in-cafeteria meal at breakfast plus an early morning Grab and Go type service before school, the Second Chance program has doubled morning sales. St. Jean says that between 160 and 180 students eat breakfast at school each day; half of those are Second Chance meals.
The Second Chance choices include an entrée, fruit, and milk. There are whole grain cereals, breakfast sandwiches, and yogurt parfaits. St. Jean says that student favorites include cereal, yogurt, pancakes, and bagels with cream cheese.
“The cost for a Second Chance breakfast is $1.25,” said Estrada. “Students who qualify for reduced cost meals can purchase the meal for 30 cents and students qualified for free meals eat at no charge.”
Currently St. Jean and her staff set up a table with breakfast items and a cooler with beverages in the hallway just outside the cafeteria. There is a computer for students to enter their ID numbers. Cash is also accepted. Then they make their selections and head on to class.
St. Jean says that they have a big mix of students from all grade levels, genders, and socio-economic levels. Some staff members also use the service.
“The Second Chance breakfast program allows students an opportunity to eat breakfast at a later time,” said WBMS principal Tammy Newcomb. “Many students prefer to eat breakfast later in the morning and this gives those students a healthy choice instead of a vending item. It has been well received by the students and staff.”
Sometimes irregular bus schedules also prevent children from getting breakfast at the beginning of the day.
St. Jean said that having the support of Newcomb and of the teachers and staff has been vital to the success of the new program. The Second Chance program was discussed at a faculty meeting before school began.
“Everyone was supportive,” said St. Jean. “They recognized the need.”
The breakfast programs operate under federal School Breakfast Program guidelines for nutritious and affordable meals.
Countless studies have indicated that students perform better academically and even behaviorally when they eat breakfast.
According to a study published in the “Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine” journal, “students who increased their participation in school breakfast programs had significantly higher math scores than students who skipped or rarely ate breakfast. As an added benefit, the group of students who increased breakfast participation also had decreased rates of tardiness and absences.”
Estrada says that Kellogg’s and General Mills “have graciously provided support to the program. Kellogg’s has donated a mobile breakfast cart at Cave Spring High School and will be donating a second cart to William Byrd Middle.” The carts have features to keep hot foods hot, and cold foods and beverages cold.
“They also donate the clear plastic bags that the students put their breakfasts in across the district,” said Estrada. “General Mills has agreed to provide a generous equipment allowance to help support the program. This will be used with the Share our Strength funds at Northside High to purchase the mobile cart. We are very appreciative of all this help.”
School Board Vice Chairman Tim Greenway who represents Vinton said that he would like to see the breakfast programs and especially the mobile carts be expanded to all the secondary schools.
“Ms. St. Jean and her staff are to be commended for their hard work and dedication to serving the needs of students,” said Estrada. “By championing Second Chance breakfast, they have ensured that more students get a nutritious start to their day and the fuel they need for learning.”
St. Jean lives in the Mount Pleasant area. She worked at W.E. Cundiff Elementary for ten years. This is her fifth year at WBMS.