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

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”

Raised Voices

Balloons, hearts, and ‘die-ins’: How Colorado students marked National Walkout Day

Students gather at the Colorado State Capitol to protest gun violence. (Melanie Asmar)

Thousands of students across Colorado poured out of their schools Wednesday to protest gun violence and to remember 17 victims of last month’s deadly shooting in Florida. Chalkbeat’s Melanie Asmar walked with students from East High School to the Colorado State Capitol, where Gov. John Hickenlooper and Speaker of the House Cristanta Duran urged them to remain politically active.

The protests took different forms at other schools – and not everyone wanted the event to be political. There were balloon releases, voter registration drives, and public “die-ins” at major intersections. And in one Denver area school district, a surge of threats cast a pall over events.

Here’s a look at #NationalWalkoutDay from around the region.

Students at Skinner Middle School in northwest Denver marched in silent solidarity.

In Colorado, teenagers can register to vote before their 18th birthday.

At schools in the Adams 12 district north of Denver, a big uptick in threats the night before – and a warning letter from the superintendent – led many students to skip school altogether.

Students at McAuliffe International School in northeast Denver spoke with their shirts. Instead of “Thoughts & Prayers,” they asked for “Policy & Change.”

But their event was not all about politics. They formed a heart with their bodies and read the names of the dead.

At Jefferson Jr./Sr. High School, students promised to work to change school culture.

Many schools released balloons to honor the victims and found other ways to advocate for change.

Unlike some Colorado districts, St. Vrain didn’t officially condone the walkouts, but students at Longmont schools walked out anyway.

Students at Denver’s South High School have been vocal about gun violence. In a recent visit from U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, they rejected the idea that armed teachers would make them safer and demanded that lawmakers do more.

Students from one of Colorado’s KIPP charter schools used their bodies to send a message at a major intersection in west Denver.

Students of color in Denver reminded the public that gun violence is not limited to mass shootings.

Students aren’t just marching. They’re also writing their representatives. State Rep. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, tweeted a picture of her inbox full of emails from students.

Colorado carries the legacy of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, where a memorial asks urgently as ever: “How have things changed; what have we learned?”