Martinez admits that most people — from school administrators, to teachers, to custodians — are skeptical about the program at first, and their concerns are legitimate.

“It’s going to be more work initially, because it’s different, and you’re going to have to find a system that works for your school,” he says. “You want to be honest with your custodial staff, but you also want to bring the focus back to the kids: If it’s good for student learning, then we as a team need to make it work.”

Heather Newell, Backman’s principal, was concerned about the toll the program would take on the school’s custodian.

“It’s not a custodian’s dream,” she admits, “but he’s been great, and I don’t think it’s as difficult as he imagined it would be. His workload has shifted, but it’s about the same.”

Rhoten concurs, adding: “It’s not more work; it’s just different work,” he says.

Now, instead of cleaning the cafeteria, Rhoten sets up his garbage and recycling stations outside the classrooms and responds to classroom spills, when needed. After breakfast, he cleans the sinks, mops the area, and returns the garbage cans to the cafeteria. Then he does a quick walk-around and checks the stairs for additional spills that may occur when kids throw out trash or open food on the way to class.

Getting used to the new routine has been a big adjustment for custodians, but the benefits of the program have exceeded the district’s expectations. 

“We went from about 40 percent of our kids eating breakfast, to more than 90 percent,” says Newell. “And that social and emotional connection they have with teachers in the morning far outweighs the minutes lost for instruction.”
Schools are also seeing a decrease in tardiness and an improvement in students’ behavior.

“When kids ate in the cafeteria before school, a lot of them would dump their food and go outside to play,” says Newell. “We were having huge behavior problems on the playground, and those problems have decreased greatly.”

Additionally, children are calm and well behaved while waiting in line to select food and walking to the classrooms — a welcome change from the noise and chaos of the cafeteria.

Another unexpected benefit of the program is that students are taking greater responsibility for recycling and cleaning up after themselves. Martinez also hopes to develop a “green team” of students to support recycling efforts for Breakfast in the Classroom, thereby giving them a purpose and relieving some of the burden on custodians.

A number of teachers and custodians still complain about Breakfast in the Classroom, but the majority of them are committed to the cause and work together continually to make improvements for the good of the students.

“Change is hard, and it’s pretty common to hear resentment about the additional work it requires,” says Davis. “But we’re hoping facility staff will work cooperatively with food service and that, ultimately, they understand the importance of breakfast and feel more connected to supporting students to be healthy and ready to learn.” 

KASSANDRA KANIA is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Responding To Spills