Charleston County Schools offer free breakfast with national Breakfast in the Classroom program

Baptist Hill High School sophomore Dajon Frasier eats breakfast with his classmates. The Breakfast in the Classroom program provides a free breakfast in the classroom for all students.

Wouldn’t it be nice to walk into work or school with a free, healthy breakfast waiting on the desk just for you?

Many Lowcountry students are getting just that, thanks to the Breakfast in the Classroom program, a national initiative that aims to decrease childhood hunger and help students perform better in school.

The Charleston County School District is one of 15 districts in the nation chosen to participate in the program.

Walter Campbell, the food service director for the school district, said that students who eat breakfast benefit by having fewer visits to the school nurse, fewer tardies and better attendance and attentiveness, among other things. Data from the Food Research and Action Center has cited these results.

He said he thinks it is important to include high schools as well because it “creates community in the classroom,” which may cut down on bullying.

Baptist Hill Middle/High School in Hollywood is the only high school implementing the program so far. Principal Kala Goodwine said she “likes the structure it brings to the school.”

School resource officer Deputy Lloyd Brossy agreed that students are more settled in the mornings because of the program.

Shamiyah Mills, a sophomore at Baptist Hill, said she likes the program because it’s less chaotic than eating in the cafeteria and less of a distraction.

Twenty schools in the district have signed on to adopt the program, and more than 6,000 students will benefit. Most of the schools have at least 70 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced meals.

Campbell said that a few schools in the district had breakfast in the classroom prior to this program. The grant from the federal program allows them to expand to more schools.

Every student will have the option to eat breakfast. Teachers also can participate and will keep track of which students have eaten breakfast that day.

“I like how I can eat with my kids,” said Raynard Singleton, who has been teaching at the school for 10 years.

The food offered will be whole-grain foods and fruit. According to the Food Research and Action Center, “students attending schools that offer breakfast free to all students are more likely to consume a nutritionally substantive breakfast.”

Erin Gilmore, who has been teaching at Baptist Hill for four years, said that before the program many students used breakfast to socialize and were not eating.

The district plans to continue the program beyond this year and expand to more schools in coming years. Of the schools that have signed on for the program, about four have implemented it.

Some of the other schools participating include Angel Oak Elementary, West Ashley Middle, Military Magnet Academy, Garrett Academy, Sanders-Clyde Elementary and Charleston Progressive Academy.

Campbell said that more schools will implement the program after logistics are worked out and teachers and administrators are on board. He said that teachers and staff play an integral role because they are the ones who put the program into motion by passing out the food and keeping track of how many students are participating.

The program will not cut into any instruction time. Teachers can take roll and get other housekeeping items out of the way while students eat. Goodwine said her students also watch the news and listen to the morning announcements. It will take no longer than 10 minutes, Campbell said.

Additional staff will not need to be hired to start the program. Food service providers do have to arrive earlier to pack up the food to supply to teachers for their classrooms. Cassaundra Drayton, a food service provider at Baptist Hill, said she has to arrive at 5 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. to prepare food.

But Drayton said she knows the students enjoy the program because they enthusiastically ask her at lunch what is for breakfast the next morning. She also said that students eating breakfast increased from 200 to 400 students.

The only downside, sophomore Dajon Frasier said, is that there are no hot grits for breakfast. But Campbell said he is already working on that because of the popular demand.

Campbell said he found out about the program at a conference in March last year and said he has been working to bring the program to the district ever since.

Before the district was selected, representatives of the program came to visit the schools and meet with district Superintendent Nancy McGinley and other administrators.

The program tries to select districts that have a high percentage of students receiving free and reduced meals. About 54 percent of the district’s students qualify for those meals. Goodwine said about 90 percent of her students qualify, which is part of the reason she chose to bring the program to her school.

The program is made possible by a $2 billion grant from the Walmart Foundation created to combat hunger in America. Breakfast in the Classroom gets $5 million of this grant. Campbell said Charleston County will receive about $250,000.

According to FRAC’s 2011 food hardship report, South Carolina ranks fifth highest in the nation with a 21.9 food hardship rate. This means that 21.9 percent of South Carolinians answered “yes” to the question, “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?” FRAC reported that the national food hardship rate for 2011 was 18.6.

“By working community by community to address the issue of child hunger at the local level, we are making strategic changes that will benefit the lives of thousands of our nation’s children,” Julie Gehrki, senior director of the Walmart Foundation said in a press release.

Campbell said that funding from the grant will allow the schools to purchase carts to deliver food to classrooms, reusable bags to put meals in and additional garbage cans. Each cart costs about $5,000 he said.

The program is a collaboration between FRAC, the National Association of Elementary School Principals Foundation, National Education Association Health Information Network and School Nutrition Foundation.

Go to breakfastintheclass room.org.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560.