Woodland students going through the mobile breakfast line

Johnson City Schools providing children with a second chance at breakfast

Hungry bellies can equate to wandering minds, according to Johnson City Schools Supervisor of Food Services Karen McGahey, and filling those bellies are something that she and her staff focus on every day.

With the commitment of the Johnson City School System, the food service staff have implemented programs that allow a second chance for breakfast with an opportunity for a mid-morning snack.

“Everything you’ve been told about breakfast from your mother is true, it really does have an impact on students,” McGahey said through a smile. “I think we see a push for a healthy breakfast or a mid-morning snack during TCAP times. But my feeling is that every day of the year is important, not just during testing.”

Recent studies from the Food Research & Action Center say that students who are undernourished have poorer cognitive function when they miss breakfast. Studies also show that behavioral, emotional, mental health and academic problems are more prevalent among children and adolescents struggling with hunger. Other studies have shown a decrease in nurse visits and discipline visits when students eat breakfast.

“There have been many studies about how important breakfast is and from everything we’ve seen, it’s exactly everything that your mother told you about breakfast,” McGahey said. “You’re more alert; you’re ready to learn and more engaged.”

All 11 schools in the system have a mobile food cart that is located in a high-traffic area inside the school other than the cafeteria. In the eight elementary schools, including Woodland, North Side and Mountain View who have universal free breakfast, students have an opportunity to stop by a mobile food cart and select from assorted foods.

Students at Indian Trail and Liberty Bell have the same opportunity and at Science Hill, students are able to have a second chance at breakfast from 9:16 a.m. to 9:28 a.m. During that time, food service staff operate different posts throughout the school so that students can easily access food they may want. McGahey said this program would not be possible without the cooperation of the administration and teachers that allow students to eat in the classroom.

“The teachers have been very supportive in letting the students bring food into their classroom and I think they’ve found that if students aren’t hungry, then they’re more apt to be engaged and in a learning mode,” McGahey said. “And that is what we are all focused on.”

Some of the items that are included on the cart are banana bread, muffins, yogurt, cheese sticks, turkey breast sticks and different types of sweet and savory crackers and granola bars. There is also a selection of fresh fruit and dried fruit, along with milk.

“We’re trying to take the cart to where the students are,” McGahey said. “It’s grab-and-go and everything is prepackaged and transportable.

“Students like making their own choices and they like that sense of control, and students today are given choices from the moment they are born. So part of what we are seeing is that if we try to make those choices for them, they will balk on it a little bit. So that is one reason we have done self-service in our schools for years. Because when students participate in making their own choices, they are more apt to eat what they chose.”

The grab-and-go carts were first implemented at Indian Trail a couple of years ago, because their morning intramurals often saw a large student population starting their days in the gym. Interest from the students quickly grew and they went from selling about 20 meals to now having two carts and doing about 200 grab-and-go breakfasts a day.

That success helped food service personnel know they needed carts in all of the schools. It also opened the door for another idea: a food golf cart that drives around Science Hill’s large campus. The golf cart allows food service workers to catch students that may be walking from the academic wing to the College, Career and Technology Education building.

“We’d been thinking about this for several years and we just felt like it could really fill a need at both Liberty Bell and Science Hill,” McGahey said. “We originally got it for Liberty Bell, but we decided that Science Hill was the place to start with it.”

For more information about Johnson City Schools Food Service visit their section on the Johnson City Schools website under the Family & Community section. Food Service is also on Twitter at FoodService_JCS.