Oakland Unified School District officials believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day—so important that they’re now serving it twice.
In an effort to increase the number of students who eat breakfast at school, the district has begun implementing an additional breakfast option called “Second Chance Breakfast.” Through the federally-funded School Breakfast Program, several of Oakland’s public schools already provide free and reduced price breakfast to students before the start of the school day, traditionally between 7:55 am and 8:25 am.
However, Jennifer LeBarre, the district’s director of nutrition services, has found that student participation in the district’s conventional breakfast programs is meager. “We serve about 21,000 lunches a day, but only 6,500 breakfasts,” she said. “A lot of families have a hard time getting to school on time, let alone 30 minutes before class starts.”
Second Chance Breakfast, which is served after the school bell has rung, is targeted toward students who do not arrive at school in time for the earlier meal. The breakfast is offered after the start of the school day, but prior to 10:00 am. Depending on the school, Second Chance Breakfast is served as an in-class meal or a “grab and go” service.
Eating breakfast offers significant benefits for students, said LeBarre. Research by the Food Research and Action Center, a non-profit nutrition research and lobbying group, shows students who eat breakfast often display increased concentration throughout the school day and are absent less often.
”We’ve been sporadically implementing Second Chance Breakfast for the last two to three years,” said LeBarre. “We’ve really been making a big push for it this year.”
To pilot the program, the district is offering Second Chance Breakfast at two East Oakland schools—Madison Middle School and East Oakland School of the Arts—with hopes of expanding to other schools in the district. “It’s a good fit for middle and high school,” said LeBarre. “I would like to see it offered at each school, but there is no timeline in place currently for expansion.”
At East Oakland School of the Arts (EOSA), Second Chance Breakfast is a 15-minute grab and go service offering students juice, milk and a pastry. The program was adopted as a solution to a recent implementation of a later lunchtime. “We don’t have lunch until 1:16,” said vice principal John Lynch, who administers Second Chance Breakfast. “It’s a long haul—8:25 to 1:16—of academic coursework if you haven’t had anything. We want to make sure our kids are fed.”
The service, which incurs no additional cost for the school, has been well received. “We tend to do about 100 breakfasts a day,” said Lynch. “That’s about 40 percent of our student population that participates in Second Chance Breakfast.”
Eating breakfast after the bell rings can also improve productivity for students, said LeBarre. “It speeds up the day,” said Marshaye Robinson, a 15-year-old EOSA student who added that having a later breakfast helped her focus more.
Second Chance Breakfast is not a new model. Earlier this year, California Food Policy Advocates, an Oakland-based lobbying group promoting health and well being among low-income Californians, implemented a campaign aimed, in part, at assisting schools with the development of Second Chance Breakfast programs. “We have tried to focus this part of the campaign on school districts with high numbers of low-income students,” said Tia Shimada, nutrition policy advocate for California Food Policy Advocates. “It is an opportunity to ensure these students have a healthy meal at school.”
While there’s no data on exactly how many California schools implement Second Chance Breakfast programs, Shimada said it is currently being offered in schools in Newark, Truckee and Burbank.
The introduction of Second Chance Breakfast in Oakland comes after a recent push for “universal breakfast” in the district. Universal breakfast allows all students, regardless of pay status, attending a school participating in the federal School Breakfast Program to eat at no cost to the student. Currently, 94 schools in Oakland offer universal breakfast, up from 40 schools that offered it last year.
Funding for Oakland’s universal breakfast program comes from a mixture of federal and state reimbursements and sales of other food items to students and adults. For schools that already serve breakfast, “Second Chance Breakfast is one of those things that are really easy to do, because the staff is already there,” said LeBarre. “The only additional cost would be for food and that is covered through reimbursement from the state.”
In fact, schools are reimbursed more by the state when they implement Second Chance Breakfast programs. Under the federal school breakfast program, schools are reimbursed for each meal served. The greater the number of students eating breakfast at school, the greater the reimbursement from the government. “Of all of the free and reduced price meals, Oakland would have received $2.6 million in reimbursed benefits from breakfast alone,” said Markell Lewis, a nutrition policy advocate intern at California Food Policy Advocates. “Statewide, that would be over $300 million if students who participated in lunch also participated in breakfast.”
Oakland’s nutrition services team is considering expanding the program, and other schools in the district are receptive to the idea. “We have so many students that come in everyday unable to focus in class or having a stomachache,” said Melissa Brown, supervisor at the Oakland Tech health center where conventional breakfast is offered. “The majority of them simply have not had breakfast. It’s essential that our students start the day with a good meal.”
Administrators at schools already serving Second Chance Breakfast say they see improvements in community spirit. “I think students really enjoy Second Chance Breakfast,” said Lynch. “Beyond the nutritional benefits, this idea of gathering your whole school community together to have breakfast is a great way for the kids to establish a norm.”