Lincoln Charter shows importance of breakfast for student well-being
Lincoln Charter School students shared their excitement as they looked at pencils, stickers and bracelets encouraging them to "Fuel up" with school breakfast.
"I'm having so much fun right now," said one student, in line for a make-your-own parfait.
It was a special day on Tuesday, March 5, as fourth- and fifth-grade student ambassadors invited friends and community members to gather with them in the school's lobby to celebrate National School Breakfast Week.
"You don't know if they didn't get breakfast yet, so it's really good," said fifth-grader Eliangeliz Echevarria.
"We try to remove all the obstacles to learning for our students, and food would be a huge obstacle," said Anne Clark, director of community outreach for Lincoln. "It’s really hard to come in here and think about learning and being your best if you’re thinking about food and you’re hungry."
More meals: Since the school serves many low-income families, Lincoln has a Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP, meaning meals come at no cost to all students.
And about two years ago, the school began offering four meals per day: breakfast, lunch, dinner and an after-school snack.
It was the only school at its statewide nutrition training last year that had every single food program, Clark said.
Lincoln also began serving breakfast in the classroom since only about a third or a fourth of students were eating in the cafeteria. Now about 500 of the school's 638 students eat each morning. And students who come in late can still receive breakfast.
To accommodate the number of meals, the school updated its cafeteria and kitchen this year, and it now has a new serving line for fresh fruits and vegetables thanks to a grant.
Working with students: It's a challenge sometimes to ensure students eat, Clark said — especially if they're trying new foods — so staff will often offer items for several weeks so students can get used to them.
The food service team goes through a lot of training to ensure the programs run smoothly, including each member completing a director's track at the conference.
Food Service Manager Azaira Washington said that made a big difference, and learning from other schools made them see "we can do so much more," she said.
Teachers also receive training in civil rights and the difference between "offer" and "serve."
The advantage of "serve," in which students must take all five components of the meal, is that teachers who wouldn't know all the school's nutritional requirements for a complete breakfast can ensure students got what they needed, Clark said.
But at lunch it's helpful to be able to "offer" students a choice between flavors of milk or types of vegetables because they're more likely to eat when they have options.
Community: Tuesday's school breakfast event was also an opportunity to celebrate community.
"You really get to know people," said fifth-grader Ryhon Amara, noting that he has the opportunity to talk to students he doesn't always see throughout the day.
West York Borough Council Member Mildred Tavarez said it was important for students to be able to see professionals out there in the field.
"There’s always something we can do to be able to let the kids know what they can achieve," she said.