“Every custodian is going to have his or her own different style. Every school is going to be slightly different. You have schools that are two stories and three stories and stuff like that. So school staff know best how to get it done.” —Elementary school custodian, West Virginia
Tailor the program to fit your schools
Introduce the plan to schools by hosting information sessions on the district’s goals. Next, conduct training that clarifies how the program is intended to function. Whenever possible, training should include a dry run so staff can see the program in action and address any potential oversights. Food service leaders are often best equipped to develop and conduct trainings for faculty and staff, while educators may prefer to train students. As each school learns more, seek feedback and examine opportunities to reallocate resources, shift schedules, revisit objectives, clarify roles, strengthen training and expectations, or otherwise adjust and directly respond to anticipated challenges.
Once all school staff members are comfortable with the expectations and logistical details related to their transition, communicate to the broader public about the official launch date, the impetus for shifting the breakfast service model, and the district’s goals for the new program. Robocalls, school welcome packets, newsletters and the school website can all help announce the change to parents and families. Solicit volunteers to help on the launch day or with other transition activities. Let students know that breakfast service will soon change, using posters, contests, giveaways and loudspeaker announcements. The launch may also provide a timely opportunity for student champions to encourage their peers to eat more school meals and to offer input on breakfast menu items. Sharing content with local press outlets, community newsletters and listservs may further generate support.
The Syracuse City School District in New York is a “top performer” in school breakfast, ensuring its more than 10,000 low-income students are offered a nutritious morning meal every day. Breakfast after the bell models are a key component of Syracuse’s success, along with the following factors:
- Through the Community Eligibility Provision program—which allows high-poverty schools to offer meal service to all students at no charge, regardless of economic status—every SCSD school offers free breakfast and lunch to every student. The district offers a snack and an evening meal to all students (through the Child and Adult Care Food Program). Finally, a partnership with the local grocer brings nutrition education to elementary schools about the importance of fruit and vegetables.
- Syracuse’s vision for students’ food security accommodates variation in its 33 schools. Each principal may choose to use traditional cafeteria service, breakfast in the classroom, vending machines or a hybrid model. Nineteen schools are choosing to do breakfast in the classroom and eight are offering breakfast in vending machines.
- For large schools, the Syracuse Teachers Association (STA) coordinates with the district to ensure each food service worker is given an additional 10 minutes of morning preparation time for every 200 students served. STA also facilitates early arrivals for days when breakfast service includes many menu components so food service personnel have adequate preparation time.
- Despite school-level variability, Syracuse maintains efficient routines. For example, annual training ensures that food service staff, cooks and recess staff are ready to support any school and model. Moreover, the union, the food service director, building leaders, custodians and cafeteria managers regularly connect to improve the program and discuss other topics, such as the impact of menu changes.