LocationAlhambra , CA United States
School mornings are a race against the clock for Alhambra High School sophomore Nushrat Esha.
Students like Esha often find themselves having to choose between being late and eating breakfast. But that’s all changed because of Grab ‘N’ Go. “It’s good,” Esha said. “I can save a lot of time and sleep.” The Alhambra Unified School District’s Grab ‘N’ Go Breakfast is changing the breakfast game and winning at it too. As part of March’s National School Breakfast Week, the program received the Champions of Breakfast award from the School Superintendents Association and the Walmart Foundation for its innovative model.
Grab ‘N’ Go Breakfast works like a food truck or kiosk. Stocked with a selection of portable, pre-packaged foods, the carts are wheeled every morning to designated high traffic areas at Alhambra schools. Students can quickly put together their meal assembly line-style and pay in a matter of seconds. Items on the menu include breakfast pizza, cereal, banana bread and yogurt parfait, with a side of milk, juice and fruit. To ensure students are interested in the breakfasts, AUSD finds a balance between nutrition and something that actually tastes good by surveying the community at their Annual Food & Wellness Fair. There, students, parents, staff and community members help choose prospective menu items by rating over 70 foods and beverages sourced from both vendors and AUSD’s Central Production Kitchen.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right?” said AUSD’s Director of Business Services Vivien Watts. She began developing a plan with William Fong, AUSD’s director of food and nutrition and Superintendent Denise Jaramillo after noticing that not a lot of students were eating breakfast at school. Only 16.8 percent of K-8 students and only 4.8 percent of high school students were participating in school breakfast on a daily basis and even fewer were eating breakfast at home. It turns out that making free and reduced meals accessible is just as important as the program itself existing.
Planning began about a year ago. The district put this idea in motion once they received funding through combined grants from the School Superintendents, the Walmart Foundation and the California Department of Education. AUSD’s impressive concept made them the only the California school district to win the Champions of Breakfast award. The district is also one of only eight in the nation to be sponsored by the Walmart Foundation.
First implemented at Alhambra High School in October 2017, the Grab ‘N’ Go Breakfast has since expanded to the other two high schools and several elementary schools in the district. Compared to the same month last year, February 2018 has seen a 28 percent increase in students eating breakfast. To reach an even larger population, Watts and Fong emphasized the importance of school, district and community support. Watts adds that it’s also about constantly improving. “We’re not afraid of making changes,” she said.
One of the most familiar sights in school is tired students. Given that students live such demanding lives, districts have tried different approaches to accommodate the students. Options like later school start times or even breakfast served in the classroom have been too controversial to be put into action any time soon. Grab ‘N’ Go Breakfast becomes a middle ground. The school doesn’t have to remake its schedule and the students don’t have to sacrifice those few extra minutes of sleep.
Through Grab ‘N’ Go, the district also hopes to address concerns that people don’t commonly associate with breakfast. Students’ mental health, school safety and school performance are deeply rooted issues that may have some ties to school breakfast. Not having enough food in the pantry is unfortunately a common struggle and having to worry about meals as a student could open the door to more behavioral problems.
“At first it weirded me out,” said sophomore Minerva Olvera of the breakfast carts. “But it’s good! It encourages people that they don’t have to walk as far [for breakfast].” Students, when asked for feedback on possible improvements, have suggested that teachers let students eat during the first 20 minutes of class and that schools find a way to keep the breakfast foods from getting cold when out on the carts.
Spanish teacher Sandra Saavedra agrees that Grab ‘N’ Go is a good idea. “You never know how it is at home,” she said. “Students need something to eat, and it’s important to give them an opportunity.”
Allison Ko is a sophomore at Alhambra High School and a contributor to the Alhambra Source.