Breakfast for All program expands in Bellingham school district

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day. But for some kids, getting that meal wasn’t always an option. That has changed in the Bellingham School District, where kids are being given breakfast, and it’s helping them in so many ways.

In Kelly Morgan’s first grade class at Birchwood Elementary School, as the kids get their day started on some math warm-ups, they also grab breakfast.

Today's menu: a breakfast bar, some milk and apple slices. First-grader Aleenah Henderson says she loves having breakfast while in class.

"This is actually triple breakfast because my dad gave me some candy,” she said.

But she also knows how special having breakfast in the classroom is.

“Because some kids don’t have food and they’re poor. And they don’t have money to buy it,” she said. “If we didn’t have food, we’d be thinking of food instead of reading and stuff.”

For Morgan, having the Breakfast in the Classroom program has been pivotal in student development.

"I’m sure many families can relate, that it can be difficult to get a good breakfast for kids. So, it solves that problem. That’s not one of the things that has to be on the parent’s list,” she said.

Birchwood is a very diverse school, and about 70% of kids qualify for reduced meals.

So about two years ago, the district noticed a problem.  Instead of kids learning their numbers or letters, hunger was the biggest challenge.

“Teachers were buying food to supplement for the kids,” said Morgan. “When we were asking for families to bring snacks in, only some kids did. How do you think that made the other kids feel?”

The district saw the inequity as well. Kids who wanted breakfast before the program had to come in earlier than other kids.

“It was hard for families to get here on time, and not everyone accessed it,” said Matt Whitten, principal of Birchwood Elementary.

So the district, with collaboration with educators and the public, thought, "What if we provided all kids a free breakfast, as they got into the classroom, instead of singling out the kids that need to come early to eat in the cafeteria?" That’s when Breakfast in the Classroom was born.

It’s been two years since the program launched for the district’s elementary levels. And by all accounts, it’s been a success story.

“Any family can be struggling at home. Or any family can go through organizational crisis. So, the fact that everybody gets the breakfast, if they want it, solves that problem,” said Morgan.

Just this year, the district expanded the program to Shuksan Middle School.

“It’s been a great thing for our kids,” said Jessica Sankey, Director of Wellness for the Bellingham School District. “It means food equity. The ground floor of food equity is so important to us always.”

The program is also offered at the district's six other elementary schools too. Whatever food is left, gets eaten as a snack throughout the day or taken home for later. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

“We work together to be that village that raises great kids,” said Morgan.

And this is also catching on within the state as well. Just recently, lawmakers passed a bill that allows for a program called Breakfast After the Bell, a similar program that will be available for schools with 70-percent of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. It will be offered next year.