The Other 60 Percent

Breakfast more common in classrooms

Fourteen-year-old Leticia Berez ate breakfast at her school on Friday morning, just as she normally does, downing breakfast burritos and milk. The ninth-grader is pretty sure that having a good breakfast every morning helps her keep her 4.0 GPA.

Noel Community Arts School ninth-grader Leticia Berez with Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Bronco Eric Decker.

“By eating healthy, it helps you make better grades,” Leticia insisted. “It keeps your mind going.”

But Friday’s breakfast at Leticia’s school, Noel Community Arts School in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood, wasn’t exactly like it always is. It’s not every day that the governor of Colorado and a Denver Bronco deliver the food, as they did on this day, rolling the breakfast carts into the school cafeteria to the cheers of students.

“Well, typically we deliver the breakfast right to the classroom,” said Bob Gorman, DPS area supervisor for nutrition services. “That way it allows each child to have a free breakfast to start the day.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver wide receiver Eric Decker – accompanied by some Denver Broncos cheerleaders and DPS Chief Operating Officer David Suppes – came to Noel on Friday, breakfast carts in tow, to kick off this week’s National School Breakfast Week and Fuel Up to Play 60, a National Dairy Council program that stresses healthy eating and physical activity for students.

“I have to admit, I was one of those weird kids who had about six milks at lunch, getting a double lunch, because I knew it was very important,” Decker told the cheering students.

Leticia knows too. She wrote a prize-winning essay on the importance of school breakfast that won her an autographed jersey from Decker – and a hug.

Breakfast has increasingly become a focus for school nutritionists, both as a means to provide one more meal to low-income students whose families may not have adequate food in the house and to ensure that all students, regardless of family income, don’t start the day hungry. At schools that have breakfast in the classroom, as Noel and 26 other DPS schools do, breakfast is free for everyone.

Studies show that children who eat breakfast perform better on standardized tests and make fewer mistakes in math.

A recent Share Our Strength survey found that one in five children in Colorado are at risk of hunger, and the state’s rate of children in poverty is the fastest-growing in the nation.

By the numbers
  • One in five children in Colorado are at risk of hunger
  • Of the 217,000 children who ate federally subsidized lunches in Colorado in 2010, only 87,000 also ate breakfast
  • Between 2009-10 and 2010-11, the number of breakfasts served in Colorado schools grew from an average of 97,540 daily to 108,509, an 11 percent increase
  • Hunger Free Colorado’s goal is to have 130,000 breakfasts served in school by 2015.

Yet of the 217,000 low-income children who ate free or reduced-price lunches in Colorado schools in 2010, only 87,000 participated in a school breakfast program. So expanding the program so that more schools participate has become a top priority for Hunger Free Colorado.

Last year, the organization partnered with the state to launch the School Breakfast Challenge to encourage schools to get more eligible children to participate in school breakfast. Between the 2009-10 school year and 2010-11, the number of breakfasts served in Colorado schools rose from an average of 97,540 daily to 108,509, an 11 percent increase. The percentage of students eating school breakfast grew from 12.15 to 13.35 during that same time.

Hunger Free Colorado’s goal is to have 130,000 breakfasts served in the state’s schools by 2015.

In January, winners of the School Breakfast Challenge were announced. All the winners switched from serving a traditional breakfast in the school cafeteria to a breakfast in the classroom model, which lets students eat at their desks, making it part of their instructional time.

Katherine Moos, public affairs and development manager at Hunger Free Colorado, said there are good reasons to switch from breakfast served in the cafeteria to breakfast served in the classroom.

“Sometimes it’s only the noticeably poor who participate, so some children might need it, but it’s not emotionally comfortable for them to eat in the cafeteria before school. It’s stigmatizing.”

“We’ve found in many schools, when breakfast is served in cafeteria before school, it’s difficult to access,” she said. “Even though the staff is there, they’ve prepared a meal to eat, but the kids don’t get there, or buses get there late, or there’s pressure to hang out with kids on the playground.

“Sometimes it’s only the noticeably poor who participate, so some children might need it, but it’s not emotionally comfortable for them to eat in the cafeteria before school. It’s stigmatizing.”

Clayton Elementary in Aurora, the winner in the Breakfast Challenge, moved to a breakfast in the classroom model and boosted its participation rate 72 percent.

At present, DPS serves about 20,000 free breakfasts every day to students, including breakfast in the classroom in 27 schools. That’s nearly double the number of schools that participated in the breakfast in the classroom program last year.

A governor, a Bronco and some cheerleaders kick off National School Breakfast Week

task force

Jeffco takes collaborative approach as it considers later school start times

File photo of Wheat Ridge High School students. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

The Jeffco school district is weighing pushing back start times at its middle and high schools, and the community task force set up to offer recommendations is asking for public input.

Nearby school districts, such as those in Cherry Creek and Greeley, have rolled out later start times, and Jeffco — the second largest school district in Colorado — in December announced its decision to study the issue.

Thompson and Brighton’s 27J school districts are pushing back start times at their secondary schools this fall.

The 50-person Jeffco task force has until January to present their recommendations to the district.

Supporters of the idea to start the school day later cite research showing that teenagers benefit from sleeping in and often do better in school as a result.

Jeffco is considering changing start times after parents and community members began pressing superintendent Jason Glass to look at the issue. Middle and high schools in the Jeffco district currently start at around 7:30 a.m.

The task force is inviting community members to offer their feedback this summer on the group’s website, its Facebook page, or the district’s form, and to come to its meetings in the fall.

Katie Winner, a Jeffco parent of two and one of three chairs of the start times task force, said she’s excited about how collaborative the work is this year.

“It’s a little shocking,” Winner said. “It’s really hard to convey to people that Jeffco schools wants your feedback. But I can say [definitively], I don’t believe this is a waste of time.”

The task force is currently split into three committees focusing on reviewing research on school start times, considering outcomes in other districts that have changed start times, and gathering community input. The group as a whole will also consider how schedule changes could affect transportation, sports and other after school activities, student employment, and district budgets.

Members of the task force are not appointed by the district, as has been typical in district decision-making in years past. Instead, as a way to try to generate the most community engagement, everyone who expressed interest was accepted into the group. Meetings are open to the public, and people can still join the task force.

“These groups are short-term work groups, not school board advisory committees. They are targeting some current issues that our families are interested in,” said Diana Wilson, the district’s chief communications officer. “Since the topics likely have a broad range of perspectives, gathering people that (hopefully) represent those perspectives to look at options seems like a good way to find some solutions or ideas for positive/constructive changes.”

How such a large group will reach a consensus remains to be seen. Winner knows the prospect could appear daunting, but “it’s actually a challenge to the group to say: be inclusive.”

For now the group is seeking recommendations that won’t require the district to spend more money. But Winner said the group will keep a close eye on potential tax measures that could give the district new funds after November. If some measure were to pass, it could give the group more flexibility in its recommendations.

Battle of the Bands

How one group unites, provides opportunities for Memphis-area musicians

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
Memphis Mass Band members prepare for Saturday's Independence Showdown Battle of the Bands in Jackson, Mississippi.

A drumline’s cadence filled the corners of Fairley High School’s band room, where 260 band members from across Memphis wrapped up their final practice of the week.

“M-M-B!” the group shouted before lifting their instruments to attention. James Taylor, one of the program’s five directors, signaled one last stand tune before he made his closing remarks.

“It behooves you to be on that bus at that time,” Taylor said to the room of Memphis Mass Band members Thursday night, reminding them to follow his itinerary. Saturday would be a be a big day after all.

That’s when about 260 Memphis Mass Band members will make their way to Jackson, Mississippi, for the event of the season: the Independence Showdown Battle of the Bands. They’ll join mass bands from New Orleans, Detroit, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina to showcase musical performances.

“This is like the Honda of mass bands,” said baritone section leader Marico Ray, referring to the Honda Battle of the Bands, the ultimate competition between bands from historically black colleges and universities

Mass bands are designed to connect young band members to older musicians, many of whom are alumni of college bands and can help them through auditions and scholarship applications.

Created in 2011, Memphis Mass Band is a co-ed organization that’s geared toward unifying middle school, high school, college, and alumni bands across the city. The local group is a product of a merger of a former alumni and all-star band, each then about a decade old.

Ray, who joined what was called the Memphis All Star band in 2001, said the group challenged him in a way that his high school band could not.

“I was taught in high school that band members should be the smartest people, because you have to take in and do so much all at once,” he said, noting that band members have to play, count, read, and keep a tempo at the same time.

But the outside program would put that to the test. Ray laughed as he remembered his first day of practice with other all-star members.

“I was frightened,” he said. “I knew I was good, but I wanted to be how good everybody else was.”

Ray, now 30, credits the group for his mastery of the baritone, for his college degree, and for introducing him to his wife Kamisha. By the time he graduated from Hillcrest High School in 2006 and joined the local alumni band, he was already well-connected with band directors from surrounding colleges, like Jackson State University, where he took courses in music education. After he married Kamisha, an all-star alumna and fellow baritone player, they both came back to Memphis to join the newly formed Memphis Mass Band.

“This music is very important, but what you do after this is what’s gonna make you better in life,” he said. “The goal is to make everyone as good as possible, and if you’re competing with the next person all the time, you’ll never stop trying to get better.”

In a school district that has seen many school closures and mergers in recent years, Ray said a program like MMB is needed for students who’ve had to bounce between school bands. The band is open-admission, meaning it will train anyone willing to put in the work, without requiring an audition.

“[Relocation] actually hurts a lot of our students and children because that takes their mentality away from anything that they wanted to do, versus them being able to continue going and striving,” Ray said. “Some of them lose opportunities and scholarships, college life and careers, because of a change in atmospheres.”

With its unique mix of members, though, school rivalries are common, and MMB occasionally deals with cross-system spars. But Saturday, the members will put all of that aside.

“What school you went to really doesn’t matter,” Ray said. “Everybody out here is going to wear the same uniform.”

Asia Wilson, an upcoming sophomore at the University of Memphis, heard about the group from a friend. Wilson used to play trumpet in the Overton High School band, but she said coming to MMB this year has introduced her to a different style.

Jorge Pena, a sophomore at Central High School, heard about the group on YouTube. It’s also his first year in the mass band, and the tuba player is now gearing up to play alongside members of different ages, like Wilson.

They’re both ready to show what they’ve learned at the big battle.

“It’s gonna be lit,” Wilson said, smiling.

Need weekend plans? Tickets are still selling for Saturday’s 5 p.m. showcase. To purchase, click here.