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Central Cambria School District

Ebensburg, PA
Food Service Director: Lee Ann Cannonie
Central Cambria School District
District Enrollment: 1911
District Free/Reduced: 30%

The Issues
Regina Ponchione, a first-grade teacher at Cambria Elementary noticed that some of her students were coming to school hungry. She tried to have snacks for them, but admitted they were not necessarily always healthy snacks.

The Creative Strategy: Pilot Free Breakfast Program
Lee Ann Cannonie, the Food Service Director in Central Cambria School District approached Regina about participating in a pilot free breakfast program to determine if the program would make a difference in the students' morning routine, as well as the entire day. Regina agreed to participate, although she admitted that she did not think it would make a difference.

For one spring term, Regina escorted her class to the cafeteria where they all ate breakfast together, free of charge.

The Results
Regina's doubts about the effectiveness of the program were quickly dispelled. Prior to the pilot free breakfast program, she noted that class started at 9:00 AM, and students would become restless around 10:00 or 10:15. She felt that she needed to allow time for bathroom and other breaks because students were restless and inattentive. After the pilot breakfast program started, the students returned from breakfast at 9:15 and immediately started working. There were no interruptions until 11:00. The students were able to stay focused much longer. Although loss of instructional time is sometimes cited as a reason for not instituting a breakfast program, Regina reported that she did not lose any instructional time because, although she started class 15 minutes later than usual, she did not have to take time out to deal with restless students. Her students were attentive and "on task" because they could think about their schoolwork and were not distracted by feelings of hunger. Students became accustomed to the routine and came to enjoy it. As Regina noted, "We became a closer classroom because we sat down and had breakfast together."

Parents also noticed the positive aspects of the program, with one commenting that it eliminated a family struggle in the morning. His child was more interested in eating because he or she could do so with his or her peers.

The results of the breakfast program were shared with the faculty in Cambria Elementary. Although the pilot free program has ended, teachers are encouraged to promote breakfast to their students, in the hopes that they will see similar results throughout the district. Lee Ann has noticed that more students are now participating in breakfast, with participation increasing from 24-25% to 37-38%.

Keys to Success
Teacher cooperation is crucial for the type of pilot program that was instituted at Cambria Elementary. Lee Ann believes that administrative support is also critical to starting any new program. She believes that the chance of gaining administrative support can be improved if the food service director has anticipated administrators' questions and is able to respond. Questions might arise regarding bussing issues, timing issues, and logistical issues about where breakfast will be served and eaten. While gathering this information takes a bit of time and work, Lee Ann believes the results are rewarding.


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