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New breakfast program at Oakland Tech gets kids fed as they get to class

on October 6, 2011

It was 8:05 a.m. at Oakland Technical High School.  The halls were clear.  Students wandered in and out the main doors, but very few of them decided to “grab and go.”  “Grab and Go!” Martha Igoni, an employee for the school’s food services, implored a nearly empty hallway.   “Get your breakfast!”

By 8:15, Igoni was still waiting and the mobile food cart was still full.  The fruit bin was filled with apples and oranges, the milk crate was packed with small cartons of milk, and there were rows of mini cereal boxes laid in perfect order—untouched by the students.

Igoni tried to solicit more students to the food cart, but she had no luck.  Then, all of a sudden, at 8:20:  the rush.  Students stopped, checked out the cart, and instead of grabbing and going, some of them tried to grab and run in an attempt to beat the tardy bell.

“Do you have any granola bars?” asked one student as she picked through the cart of food.

“Right here,” Igoni said. “But you have to sign your name.”

An energetic employee, a mobile food cart, and a group of hungry students running late for class–all these can now be found Oakland Tech’s main entrance every morning, as students “Grab and Go.”   The Bechtel Foundation-sponsored program, now in its fist year at Tech, offers a free quickie breakfast to  students who don’t have time to eat in the school’s cafeteria–or just don’t want to.  Students have to swipe their student identification cards to get a packaged breakfast.

“The majority of students at Tech will be able to come to school with something healthy in their stomach,” said Maureen Nixon-Holtan, Co-Director of the Health Academy, a program for students interested in a career in the sciences. “Adequate nutrition will improve engagement and academic performance.”

Students with packaged food from the ‘Grab and Go’ program are allowed to eat their breakfast during their first period class.

“Teachers have agreed to let students eat in class as long as they are doing work,” said Holtan, who is also a biology teacher.  “They can’t just stop and eat.  They have to keep working while they’re eating their breakfast.”

Before school officials decided to start the program, they had students conduct a survey about what their peers eat in the morning and how teachers felt about students eating breakfast during their first period class. More than half the students who answered said they did not have breakfast in the morning because they were running late.  Over two-thirds of the teachers who answered said they would let their students eat breakfast in their classrooms.

Using the model from Fremont Federation High Schools, another Oakland public campus that started offering breakfasts in March, Tech nutrition and wellness champions decided to plan the school’s ‘Grab and Go’ program.  They agreed to start the program in mid-September, though they didn’t actually launch it until last Monday.

“What’s postponed us is not having the magnetic readers to keep track of how many kids are served,” said Holtan.  “That’s what put us off.”

A glitch in receiving the magnetic card readers still didn’t keep the food services workers from getting the job done.  On Wednesday morning they reverted to old-fashioned record keeping—pen and paper.

“Hey! Hey! Make sure you sign your name and your ID number,” Igoni said as the students crowded around the cart, anxious to grab a bite to eat before class

“Usually I wouldn’t eat until lunch time,” said Alex Torpey—a junior who stopped by the cart for the third time this week to get a box of Fruit Loops.

“I like the food, but I would normally eat breakfast,” said Devon Paul, a freshman.

And while some students came individually, others brought their friends to ‘Grab and Go.’

“We’ve all been coming here since Monday,” said Andy Hunt, a freshman, as he points to five of his friends.

When the crowd began to grow, Tech principal Sheilagh Andujar stepped out of her office to see how everything was going.  “We need another cart outside and in the front,” she said.

Students have to choose between eating breakfast in the cafeteria and having the ‘Grab and Go’ breakfast.  The daily menu for ‘Grab and Go’ is available online.

“We’re just very happy we have it started and hope that it grows and is utilized by the majority of the students,” Holtan said.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
Oakland North

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