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School board considering breakfast initiative
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Little Johnny's bus arrived at school late this morning because of traffic, so he couldn't eat the hot breakfast served in the cafeteria before class.


Now his tummy is rumbling, making it hard to concentrate on his grammar lesson.


"Johnny - what is an adjective," his teacher asked.


"I don't know ma'am," Johnny replied, "I wasn't paying attention because I'm so hungry."


This scenario may soon be a thing of the past if the Newton County Board of Education approves the pilot program at Fairview Elementary called, "Breakfast Outside the Box."


Jan Loomans, Newton County Schools' director of school nutrition, said the State Department of Education adopted the program after several districts reported higher student participation in breakfast after implementing it.


"We're all consistently trying to find new ways to feed more kids," Loomans said.


She said currently about 30 percent of the county's students eat breakfast at school, compared to 80 percent who eat cafeteria lunches.


Next fall, students at Fairview Elementary will purchase breakfast from carts located on every hallway, instead of lining up in only two lines in the cafeteria. The carts will double the amount of locations where students lined up to receive their breakfasts in the cafeteria last year.


"Sometimes, the line is so long it wraps down the first-grade hall, down the second-grade hall and back around the kindergarten hall," said Fairview Principal Holly Dubois.


Currently, cafeteria workers at Fairview stop serving breakfast at 7:45 a.m. - 15 minutes before class begins. Next school year with the new program students can stand in line until 7:55 a.m.


She said feeding the 500 children who eat breakfast at the school in a cafeteria the size of Fairview's is also an issue.


"We need this program because we don't have any space - that's the number one reason," Dubois said.


Both Loomans and Dubois said another major attraction of the program was that children will take their sack or boxed breakfast into their classrooms and eat as the teacher calls roll and prepares the class for study. This will add a few precious minutes to instruction time.


"Basically, we're getting children into the classroom quicker," Loomans said.


Eating breakfast in a smaller group, with familiar classmates and while supervised by a teacher, will also cut down the instances of behavioral problems seen in the cafeteria during the morning.


Loomans said the new breakfasts will likely consist of items like chicken or sausage biscuits, fresh fruit, muffins, juice and milk. Items like grits and oatmeal will no longer be offered as they are not feasibly placed in a sack or box, but Loomans explained food service workers will still serve popular items such as cereal and cinnamon sticks, without the syrup.


"There's no point in having breakfast if the children won't eat it," Dubois said.


Dubois said she thinks the program will really help students and instructors, although she said some of her custodians have expressed apprehension about food in the classrooms.


Loomans explained the program is voluntary because it simply will not work at some schools. She said schools with layouts like Cousins Middle could only put the carts where the buses drop students off, and that would lead to many not going to the cash register and paying.


She also said high school principals have not expressed any interest in the program.


"The students sometimes don't find the trash cans in the hallways," Loomans said, "so it will probably never happen in the high schools."


Board member Cathy Dobbs said she thought the program was a great idea for elementary school students, especially for those who eat free and reduced-cost meals.


"Sometimes, it's not unusual for some students to have not eaten a good meal since lunch the previous day," Dobbs said.


Dubois said students learn better after they eat well-balanced meals, but said if the program didn't work for any reason, the school will go back to traditional cafeteria breakfasts.


"We want all of our kids to eat, and we want to do it in the most efficient way possible," Dubois said.