DARBY - In most schools, eating full meals in the classroom is discouraged. In the Darby School District, however, kids are served breakfast in their classrooms, and they eat at their desks while their teacher introduces the day’s lesson.
It’s often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so Darby administrators make sure students don’t miss it. And not surprisingly, the lure of free scrambled eggs or fresh-baked muffins cooked from scratch is helping to make sure more kids show up to school on time.
Darby School Superintendent Loyd Rennaker said that the district serves around 246 meals per day.
“In grades K-8, 80 to 90 percent of kids take advantage of it,” he said. “In high school it’s probably closer to 50 or 60 percent, so districtwide we are feeding 73 percent of our kids every day. It’s amazing.”
The kids show up to school at 8:10 a.m., and food services director Thong Robbins already has a delicious meal prepared for them.
“The thing that made the program so good for us this year is our new food services director does a lot of ‘from scratch’ cooking,” Rennaker explained. “So we’re not doing prepackaged meals. For example, last week she had a day where she made scrambled eggs with peppers and onions and then a side of fruit and milk. So it meets federal requirements for nutrition, but it’s much more cost-effective. Some days she will do a banana muffin and serve that with a cheese stick for a protein component. Cooking from scratch made it much more successful.”
On Dec. 17, the Darby School District received a letter from Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and his wife Lisa to notify them that they were nominated for the First Lady School Breakfast Champion Awards.
“Darby Schools’ work to support the school breakfast program has been invaluable to the students and community,” the letter read. “A healthy breakfast is the most critical meal in a child’s life. It improves their health, impacts their ability to concentrate and learn and promotes successful outcomes during the school years. Thank you for all that you are doing to improve the lives of children in Montana, especially for feeding those children who come to school hungry.”
Rennaker said he was pleasantly surprised to receive the letter.
“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” he said. “The Missoula food bank came down and did a tour and they are putting us in their Montana Breakfast Report Card. I would say for the most part the teachers are positive about it. One of the things that was a concern was syrup in the classroom, things like that, so we had to change some things. Overall the teachers have been supportive. We talked about it, and finally the tide turned. And when the teachers wanted to try it, it had a chance to be successful.”
The school district gets reimbursed for all the kids that qualify for free and reduced lunches, so the financial costs of the program are easily dealt with if the costs of the meals are kept down, Rennaker said.
The kids are pretty attentive when they are eating and listening, he added.
“Lot of times, teachers will have a beginning of the day assignment, and all the kids sit down and work,” Rennaker said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Victor has a school breakfast program, but Rennaker said the Darby program is the only one in the county that serves kids in the classroom.
“We’ve seen other programs across the state be successful,” he said. “One of the definite advantages is it has cut down on kids being late to school. Before, 60 out of 100 kids would be late to class. We eliminated that. We hardly have any tardies. And if kids sit in class hungry, you are not paying attention as well as you should. It really helped get them more on task. Kids whose parents feed them at home say they come to school and eat again. Kids like the new foods better than what they were getting before. It’s cut down on trash and waste. It works good. We’re excited.”
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or email@example.com.