Hunger Through the Eyes of a Teacher

Millions of kids in America face the school day on an empty stomach. But hungry kids can’t learn. Simply making breakfast a part of the school day changes everything. This spring, we are on track to announce one million more kids are eating school breakfast! This accomplishment is only possible because of the hard-working school leaders in communities across the country.  

Mary Elise Phillips

In honor of National School Breakfast Week, we bring you today’s School Breakfast Hero Mary Elise Phillips, Kindergarten Teacher, Prince Georges County MD

Hunger Through the Eyes of a Teacher

Mary Elise has taught kindergarten for more than 15 years, and in her district she’s seen more than her fair share of hungry students come through the doors. Fortunately, her school is implementing breakfast in the classroom, which means that more children are getting the fuel they need to start the day off right.

Why do kids in your school need breakfast? Do you see the difference this is making for them? Absolutely I do. One year, I had a boy in my class who would always arrive late to school. If he was late, he missed breakfast in the cafeteria, and if he missed breakfast he would act out. His behavior was so bad that my other students would notice that he was calmer if he ate breakfast, so they began to save him juice or yogurt. They knew that if he had something to eat he would be much more focused. Breakfast in the classroom has made a huge difference for kids like him.

What has been the biggest challenge with this effort? At first, some of the teachers, myself included, were resistant to making these changes. We had to go in a little earlier. We had to work together to get food for all the kids and to make sure that everything was efficiently cleaned up. We’re in a routine now. Our custodial staff is awesome and the administration bought us all special food waste garbage bins to make clean up much easier on them and on us. The food is all very kid friendly and the mess is minimal which really helps to move the morning along.

What advice do you have for other teachers who are apprehensive about serving a meal in the classroom? There will be hiccups, there will be spills, but if you find an organized way to work things will be much easier. Make a system and have a process to reduce any stress. Have paper towels ready to go, clear off tables before the food is put out. We have “room inspectors” which is another classroom job just like line leaders or door holders. They’re in charge of wiping down tables and putting items into recycling or trash when the meal is over.

How do you balance incorporating instructional time while the kids are eating breakfast? At our school, the morning announcements are made on the TV at 8:15 AM. All staff in the building are required to have them on, and all the students are required to watch. The students can hear the announcements while they’re eating. At the end of the announcements there are learning segments, such as showing a math problem, then pausing to give the kids time to figure out the answer, and then the announcers will demonstrate how to get the answer over the air. Sometimes they put up a “sight word” and practice saying and spelling it out loud along with the announcers. By the time the announcements are over the kids are finishing up eating and they’ve also gotten in some brain-friendly movement and engagement at the same time.

What do you consider to be the greatest achievement with serving breakfast? Our kids only get 15 minutes of recess each day. This extra time in the morning really allows them to focus on the day ahead and gives them more time to get to know one another. In my classroom, there are many students who have limited proficiency in English. Everyone comes from different cultures. The breakfast time in the mornings feels like a real family time, where everyone has a great sense of community. The kids are learning about one another and have a chance to really prepare for the day ahead together. Serving breakfast, in my opinion, is just so worth it. The kids need it, their developing brains need it, and I truly see the difference it is making in my school.