On Thursday, March 29th, Project Bread was joined by State Senator Michael Rush and State Representative Paul McMurtry at Oakdale Elementary School to celebrate Dedham Public Schools’ commitment to making breakfast available to all students. Senator Rush, Representative McMurtry, and Project Bread President Erin McAleer served breakfast to students and parents, including a vast array of hot foods and fresh fruits that Oakdale Elementary serves every morning. The event highlighted the importance of school breakfast and celebrated Dedham’s role in addressing the hidden hunger in the district.
Dedham Public Schools began serving breakfast in all the district’s schools in September 2017, thereby expanding the breakfast program to the 925 students in Dedham who previously did not have access to school breakfast. Prior to this school year, the district’s four schools without cafeterias, including Oakdale Elementary, did not offer school breakfast to students. Director of School Nutrition Jeanne Johnson first began thinking about implementing a breakfast program throughout the district after a new student came to school expecting breakfast and realized on their first day it was not available. “They were so worried about finding a meal they couldn’t get at home. I never wanted to hear that again,” she said. “If even one student comes to school hungry and has the opportunity to be fed here, that makes it all worthwhile.” Johnson reached out to Superintendent Michael Welch and together they engaged school administrators, staff, teachers, and parents in making a district-wide commitment that healthy school breakfast would be an option for each and every student in Dedham Public Schools.
With the community’s support, the district began piloting a Grab & Go breakfast program at Oakdale Elementary last February. After witnessing the program’s success, Dedham Public Schools began the current school year with a district-wide implementation of the program. With help from a grant from Amazon, the district purchased breakfast carts and a milk chest to make serving breakfast without a cafeteria easier. Students can now pick up a school breakfast from one of the conveniently-located carts before the bell or between classes to enjoy in the classroom as part of instructional time, ensuring that all Dedham Public School students are now able to start each school day nourished and ready to learn. “Our motto at Oakdale is one child hungry is one child too many,” said Principal Holli Caulfield.
In a middle-income district like Dedham, hunger can be invisible. Even in these higher-income areas, there may be any number of reasons that a family is food insecure. While they may not be hungry today or even tomorrow, the threat of hunger is a daily reality. For students at risk for hunger, the resources they need to help address that hunger may not always be available. School breakfast is an excellent way for middle-income districts to help ensure that all students can start their day with a healthy meal—no matter their family’s income level. “Too often, hunger is hidden. In a district like Dedham, you may not realize some students don’t know where their next meal is coming from, but the need is there,” said Project Bread President Erin McAleer. “By making breakfast available in every school, Dedham Public Schools is giving all students the tools they need to learn and thrive.”
Project Bread has provided technical assistance by promoting breakfast among parents and students to increase participation in the program. The district is also promoting the breakfast program through incentives and activities to get students excited about the morning meal. The parent-student breakfast celebration on March 29th will soon be followed by an upcoming event planned for the Riverdale Elementary School on April 26th.