Friday, June 26, 2015

A "school breakfast dividend" that increases instructional time and boosts achievement

            When New York put $17.9 million in the budget this week to enable 500 elementary schools to switch to breakfast in the classroom, it meant 340,000 more kids will start their day with the meal they need to succeed. That’s worthy of celebration in its own right. But as they say on the late night infomercials for knives and kitchen appliances: “Wait, there’s more!”  We’re learning that the impact of breakfast in the classroom is potentially even more profound.

            A panel at Virginia’s School Breakfast Summit this month cast our school breakfast work in a new light. The four testimonials from a principal, superintendent, literacy specialist and school nutrition director went beyond the usual rhetoric that “hungry kids can’t learn.” Instead each made a related but different point about the value of alternative breakfast strategies.  They explained how breakfast after the bell increases instructional time in measurable ways.

Many kids previously came to class late most days because they would go to the cafeteria first – not early before school, but as the first period was starting – and then arrive at first period halfway through.  Alternative breakfast gave the teachers 20 minutes back and a full first period.

Increased instruction time is the coin of the realm in education circles. It is one of the most important variables in increasing the academic achievement upon which school rankings, teacher performance, and funding often ride. Accordingly legions of advocates advance and champion ideas for squeezing more class time into a finite school day.

Now apply this to our win in New York. Imagine a percentage of the 340,000 elementary school students who will start getting breakfast in the classroom having 15 more minutes of instructional time a day.  Over the course of 180 school days that would yield 45 hours of additional instruction. More than an entire week.  It is a “school breakfast dividend” that compensates for the class time that we’ve been stealing from children and teachers through the less inefficient cafeteria model instituted half a century ago.  Any calculation about return on investment for breakfast after the bell ought to include it.

There are obvious physical and developmental benefits to ensuring that children start their day well fed and ready to learn. There is also the value of eating together as a class, in a more communal setting, rather than in cliques in the cafeteria. Now add additional instructional time that benefits students and teachers alike.  There not a less expensive or more cost effective way to achieve it than the innovation moving breakfast to when and where kids are, rather than requiring the kids to navigate logistical hurdles, often beyond their control, of getting to breakfast.

There’s more to celebrate than we thought.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

From The Chefs Cycle Finish LIne

            I’m happy to report I finished the 300 mile Chefs Cycle ride from Santa Barbara to San Diego and to almost everyone’s surprise never had to get into the support van, and the automatic defibrillator never had to come out. We raised more than $330,000 for our No Kid Hungry work and had more than one thousand brand new donors to Share Our Strength. None of it would have been possible without your generous support and your wonderful friendship.


It was almost all fun, except for a few excruciatingly painful hills. The two fingers I am typing with are the only parts of my body that don’t hurt.


Most important, there are some wonderful new Share Our Strength leaders emerging among the riders, a new generation of chefs, restaurateurs, athletes, and fitness enthusiasts passionate about No Kid Hungry and eager to raise more money and more awareness. They taught me a lot about team work. If even one of the 20 riders had not been there I’m not sure I would have made it to the end. It was also a great lesson in how each of us is capable of far more than we think, of how many limitations are self-imposed and can be exceeded, and of how many people out there are looking for ways to share their strength and make a difference for others.


The end of the ride included a one and a half mile climb up a mountain in an area called Torrey Pines. The intimidating hill had been talked about so much in advance, in such fearsome terms, that it took on the mythic quality of a ghost story repeatedly told at a camp fire. The apprehension beforehand was almost worse than the ride itself.  If you had taken of a video of me on the climb it would have looked like a still shot, except for the sweat pouring down my face and onto the bike frame.  

All of the riders are already looking ahead to the next challenge, and the next way they can share their strength. Think about joining us for all or part of next year’s ride. Remember, if I can do it, anyone can!