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Judy Spooner: Breakfast hot at Park, but elsewhere, reception is cool

Seventh-graders at Cottage Grove Middle School gave opinions on why they don't eat breakfast at school. From left (in a circle) are Shelby Bunton, Allissa Denzer, Jacob Schmugge, Chelsey Siebenaler, Kim Rosales and Britta Keeling. (Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner)

Just before the holiday vacation, District 833 Nutrition Services Director Barb Osthus made plans to quit offering breakfast to Cottage Grove Middle School students because few of them took it.

But after break the number of kids eating breakfast increased enough that it's still being served.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, she said in answer to my e-mail about the program's status.

I went to the school on Tuesday, Jan. 5, to ask kids why they don't eat school breakfast. Most of the sixth- and seventh-graders I talked to know it's important.

"I don't eat breakfast," said Jacob Schmugge. "I know it's important but I'm not hungry."

Allissa Denzer doesn't eat breakfast at home or school because she doesn't have time.

On the other hand, Chelsey Siebenaler said she eats at home because, if she skips breakfast, she's ravenous by lunchtime. She tried school breakfast once, but there was no time to eat it.

"I'd rather eat at home," said Alyssa Wichenhouser.

Since I firmly believe today's kids are smarter than most adults were when they were their age, I asked if kids know how important eating breakfast is.

Though sixth-graders told me they've not had health class, they got the message in elementary school and from their parents that it's important.

I told Jacob I understand the fact that he is not hungry in the morning because husband Gary is seldom hungry after he rises. I, on the other hand, can hardly wait for the oatmeal to cook because I'm really hungry.

Some adults with kids in school told me their kids don't like the food, but I think breakfast pizza, cereal, eggs, ham and cheese bagels and pancakes sound pretty good to me.

Those same adults told me kids think only "poor kids" eat breakfast because they get free or reduced-price meals and kids don't want kids to think they are poor. But when I floated that notion by the kids, they looked at me as if I had just come from another planet, so I dismissed that idea.

Shelby Bunton, a seventh-grader, gave me some insight. She has no idea what is being served for breakfast. Yes, she can find out online, but she's a kid and it's not on her radar.

Osthus said buses don't arrive at school in time for kids to eat breakfast. Based on what kids told me, I agree.

Buses arrive between 7:30 and 7:40 a.m. and class starts at 7:55 a.m. If there were 50 kids in line, it would take too much time.

School board members are going to take another look at school start times for next year for a number of reasons. Maybe they should include time for breakfast in their discussion.

Breakfast participation at Park High School is high, Osthus, said.

So what's happening between eighth-grade and high school?

I think the answer is that breakfast at the high schools is also a social time. It's widely accepted, and many kids drive or ride to school with friends so they have time.

So, the answer to increased middle school participation is two-fold. Kids need more time and they need to see it as a social time, as well.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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