News

Bringing education into the cafeteria

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

Kitchen staffers at Klahowya Secondary School are hoping to coax students into showing up for school a little earlier than usual this week. They’ve got just the bait to make it happen, too: free food.

Monday saw the official kickoff of the national School Nutrition Association’s Free Breakfast Week and students at Klahowya made it a popular opening.

“We’ve never had a line, so this is a good thing,” Klahowya Head Cook Florence Ortega said, observing a meandering lineup of students in the cafeteria Monday morning.

Klahowya is serving as Central Kitsap School District’s “pilot school” in the national campaign and will serve free breakfasts to students through Friday.

The breakfast crowd at Klahowya is normally pretty small — about 80 students, Ortega estimated — but by late Monday morning, Food Services Director Sam Blazer said that number had roughly doubled. Both are hoping the numbers keep up through the week and continue after the program has ended.

It’s all a part of their effort to promote good health and good learning among CKSD students.

Ortega lobbied the district to bring Free Breakfast Week to her school and is excited about the opportunities it could offer students and educators.

“It’s mostly to promote our breakfast program, show what our food offerings are ... and to have (students) get a good start to the day,” she said. “They don’t really know what’s going on in their kitchen.”

The Food Services budget is expected to take a bit of a ding, but Blazer is convinced the aim of Free Breakfast Week has merit.

“Enough studies have been done to show that kids learn better if they’re not hungry,” he said. “A lot of kids won’t even come in and see what you’re offering unless it’s free.

“It’s costly to do that, but as a pilot program ... we thought we would give it a try.”

The district does receive funding from state and federal funds to help pay for student lunches.

There’s nothing suggesting a malnourishment epidemic in the district, but students can be flippant about their eating habits.

“I don’t really eat breakfast,” sophomore Chris Hall said, though he added he does pay attention to the food he eats.

“As long as I can eat something, I’m OK,” sophomore Nathan Pope said, adding that he doesn’t really concern himself with healthy eating choices.

To receive a free breakfast, however, students are required to engage themselves in healthy decision-making. Each meal has to include three components: a main course consisting of cereal, a breakfast sandwich, etc.; fruit; and juice or milk to drink.

Of course, there’s nothing keeping students from picking up a free bowl of fruit and subsequently throwing it out, but Blazer is optimistic that students will make an effort to make conscious, healthy choices.

“I hope it’s why they would do it,” he said.

Pope wasn’t so sure.

“I think it’s just a free meal for most people,” he said.

Hall thought otherwise, saying the three-component requirement was a good way to check the program.

“I think it will (be effective),” he said. “I think if it was a month-long thing (it would be better).”

Blazer and Ortega are already hopeful that Free Breakfast Week could make a return next year, but as always, it will come down to a question of finances.

“It would be great to put it into more schools (but) money is a big part of this,” Blazer said.

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