By Laura Hatch and Carolyn Wait, MPH, RD 2017-09-04 23:55:23
Is Supper in the Classroom the next frontier for expanding school meal programs—and serving hungry kids? By now, many school nutrition professionals recognize that programs like Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) are some of the most successful delivery models for the morning meal. Yet, just over a decade ago, delivering breakfast to the classroom was only considered a promising practice. Today, schools are beginning to investigate new delivery models for Afterschool Meal Programs and bringing supper to the classroom too! Supper in the Classroom is an innovative way to serve that afterschool meal after the final bell rings. No Kid Hungry, an organization working with schools and community-based organizations to maximize afterschool meals as a critical component of ending childhood hunger in the United States, tested this pioneering approach in the field to see how it measured up. The team collected data from 13 schools in total, to inform the findings and recommendations. Nine of the schools were already running Supper in the Classroom and were able to share implementation techniques and lessons learned, while another four schools started the model as part of the pilot program which allowed the No Kid Hungry team to track their progress in real time. Spoiler alert: Supper in the Classroom can be a game-changer for Afterschool Meal Programs, particularly at the elementary school level. In fact, all four of the schools in the test group served more suppers than lunches. The pilot schools that adopted this innovative model reached an average of 80% participation of all enrolled students. Yes, you read that correctly. Results demonstrated that supper participation could exceed that of lunch. Of course, with any new delivery model, planning is essential to ensure successful roll out on a school-wide scale. Here’s what we learned about making Supper in the Classroom a success. A MATTER OF TIME The schools that are best positioned to implement Supper in the Classroom are either extended-day schools or those that exceed their required minimum instructional time. One of the rules of Afterschool Meals is that they be served, well, after school, which means that mealtime can’t count as instructional time. However, extended-day or expanded learning time schools that operate at least one hour longer than required by the Local Education Agency can serve the Afterschool Meal as part of the school day. For all other schools, the meal must be served after the final bell. Pilot schools changed their final bell time to be 15-20 minutes earlier and served Supper in the Classroom “after the bell” during what used to be the last few minutes of the school day. One school modified their dismissal and bus boarding procedures to free up time. This minimized impact on teachers’ hours and bus schedules. CORRAL YOUR (SCHOOL) COMMUNITY Many of the challenges to implementing Supper in the Classroom are remarkably similar to BIC. As with breakfast, teachers and school staff need to understand the importance of the program and be involved in developing its rollout. The schools in the pilot program each faced concerns from educators when beginning Supper in the Classroom. However, all but two were able to overcome those apprehensions to continue the program successfully beyond the trial period. June Lesatz, food service director for Maple Valley Schools in Michigan, had to briefly suspend the program after the pilot until she had school board approval to continue beyond the initial timeframe. During this break, she lamented “the kids are missing it. They got used to it and liked it. One of my staff members is a bus driver, and she said, ‘the kids are like, “dinner’s gone!”’… As soon as the school board approves it, we will have it back in place within days.” Similar to breakfast, teachers’ concerns with Supper in the Classroom arise from a combination of misunderstandings about reduced instructional time, classroom mess and added responsibilities to their already very full scope of work. The program also sparks some unique reactions, including a perception that providing supper—in addition to breakfast and lunch—is overkill and contributes to overeating, obesity and waste. Some may feel that serving “supper” in the early afternoon is inappropriate, as it replaces family dinner or leaves a huge gap between vulnerable children’s last meal of the day and breakfast. Engaging educators in a Supper in the Classroom program is a key to its success and can foster positive relationships between school nutrition and education staff. The schools from the No Kid Hungry pilot identified strategies to gain support among educators: » Leverage data and stories: Both numbers and personal stories are powerful tools to raise awareness among staff about a need in the community that is not being met. Rhonda Hoffine, food service director for North Bend (Ore.) School District, attests that sharing stories made the difference: “How these kids, a lot of times, don’t get dinner, they nibble on a box of cereal. That’s what won the teachers over—these kids aren’t eating when they go home.” » Re-brand the meal: Positioning the meal as a “super snack” helps with the perception that this meal is replacing the family meal eaten at home. In addition, point out that the meal is more nutritious than typical snack foods eaten by kids after school. » Streamline service: As with BIC, develop a system for efficiently delivering meals, recording counts and cleaning up. Get students involved to help! Some schools even have kids pick up meals in a central location before returning to their classroom rather than delivering meals. » Minimize waste: Use Offer versus Serve (OVS) and share tables to minimize overeating and waste concerns. Hint: this works well with BIC, too! » Create a feedback loop: Institute a regular check-in to ensure staff concerns are being heard and addressed. Involve teachers in the planning and allow them to share ideas for effectively utilizing the meal time for enrichment. Be sure to include head honchos as well. Just as participation with teachers is essential to new program endeavors, Supper in the Classroom is most successful when both the school nutrition director and district administrators champion the cause. When changes like adjusting the final bell time or bus schedules are needed, it is critical to obtain the support of leaders like the superintendent or school board. Administrators are also important for building support among principals and, in turn, teachers, custodians and other staff members. REVISE YOUR REPERTOIRE A large increase in meals served is an exciting prospect for participation and revenue. However, along with the upside to this growth, schools need to prepare for potentially significant additional kitchen equipment and storage space. Schools managed this in a number of ways. » Take advantage of grant funding to purchase an additional walk-in refrigerator, milk cooler and other kitchen supplies. » Ask foodservice vendors to supply smaller pieces of equipment such as additional storage racks and prep tables. » Adjust your delivery schedule. One school began having milk delivered twice per week, up from once every two weeks, to accommodate the increased demand for milk with Breakfast and Supper in the Classroom. THE COMMONWEALTH COWBOYS UP Kathy Hicks, director of school nutrition programs for Bristol (Va.) Public Schools, is implementing the Supper in the Classroom model as part of a larger, statewide grant project to end hunger, the Virginia 365 Project (http://tinyurl.com/VA365-SNmag). She tells a particularly touching story from a group of kindergarteners as the program first kicked off. They were concerned about the supper program being a consistent meal each day. Hicks recalls, “The kindergarteners would no sooner finish eating lunch than start asking about supper. The children were worried that this last meal of the day would stop abruptly, and they needed a lot of reassurance that they would end their day with supper. This went on for two weeks until they felt secure in the continuity of that extra meal. This says a lot about the need in my community.” The fact that a five-year-old already knows the reality of food insecurity fuels Hicks’ passion for this work. Her students’ needs drive her to overcome hurdles and work together as a team with her district. As Hicks shares with others, “We who have never been there cannot even imagine what that feels like.” In Bristol, none of this success would be possible without the support of the superintendent, school board and the principal of the school, Ms. Pam Davis. The teaching staff and the school nutrition staff are all on the same team. This team mentality that puts students’ needs first has been instrumental in making Supper in the Classroom work. BUT IS IT WORTH IT? Supper in the Classroom is a promising strategy that can be extremely successful for the right schools. With collaboration and lots of planning, schools have proven that it is possible to overcome barriers and realize immense benefits for schools and students alike. As Lesatz explains, “I realized that my food cost and labor hours would increase, but when all was said and done, as I was doing the monthly report, we did over 7,000 meals, and the reimbursement more than covered that. It was more positive than I ever expected.” When you couple the passion of school nutrition professionals, like Hicks and Lesatz, with the real need of communities across the country, anything is possible. Hicks agrees, “We truly believe in the old saying ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way!’” Laura Hatch is director of National Partnerships for Share Our Strength. Carolyn Wait is senior manager, Center for Best Practices, Share Our Strength. Photography courtesy of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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