A second chance for nutrition

Hungry students have access to a mid-morning ‘grab and go,’ breakfast

It can be hard to get to school early enough to eat breakfast, especially with many classes beginning before 9 a.m.

A few years ago, Marilyn Boerke, then principal of Liberty Middle School, noticed that the same hungry students would come into the office, where the staff keeps granola bars and fruit, hoping to get a snack.

“We noticed it was right around 10 a.m. that they were awake enough to know they were hungry,” she said.

Boerke talked with Sharon Short, district nutrition services director, to see what could be done.

Short shared a process she had tried before, that allowed students to swing through the school commons quickly and get a “grab and go” breakfast.

“After looking at our schedule, I was able to adjust classes by mere minutes to allow us a 10-minute break between second and third periods,” Boerke said. “The goal is to ensure all students have access to food, and we found that many students who ride the bus don’t get to school in time to get breakfast. Additionally, many teenagers aren’t able to eat first thing when they get up, while 10 a.m. has given them a chance to wake up.”

At the end of the 2015-16 school year, 100 students were regularly using the program.

“That is our most vulnerable population and the least likely to either eat at home or be able to bring a snack,” said Boerke, who began a new position as the district’s human resources director in July. “Seeing the excitement on their faces as they walk away with food is worth the tiny blip of confusion when the program first started. This was a tremendous result and 100 more students are now able to focus on learning. This is one important step to closing the achievement gap between the kids who have resources at home and those who do not.”

Added Short, “We’ve have all heard about the importance of breakfast and how it impacts students’ learning and overall health. Since the beginning of Second Chance Breakfast, schools participating are reporting fewer trips to the nurses office with headaches and stomach aches. Teachers have also noticed a reduction in behavior referrals.”

While some may have the perception that Camas is a wealthy area and kids have plenty to eat, Boerke has seen first-hand this is not the case.

“We also have many families who struggle and need food available to them at school,” she said. “Liberty sponsors a backpack program for about 15 families each week, and other schools in our district do the same. While our district’s overall free or reduced meals rate is 16.2 percent, Liberty’s is 21 percent, and the elementary schools that feed into Liberty range from 20 to 29 percent.”

She continued, “We absolutely do have hungry and homeless families in our city, and the very least we can do is provide a later attempt at getting breakfast.”

Liberty Middle School also has an emergency lunch fund. Students who can’t pay for lunch on any given day can access the fund, no matter what the reason.

The money comes from donations from staff and parents, as well as the proceeds from local businesses that let customers sign up for a school to donate a percentage of their purchases.

“These types of programs, as well as the generosity of the community, are essential in making sure kids have what they need to be successful every day,” Boerke said.

Currently, Second Chance Breakfast is offered at Liberty Middle School, Camas High School, Hayes Freedom High School and Lacamas Elementary.

“The results have been very promising and we are looking to expand in 2016-17,” Short said. “What could be better than feeding more hungry kids.”