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Some schools must offer breakfast as well as lunch

At Oaklandvale Elementary School in Saugus, Majesty Jackson, 10 (left), and Cleopatra Charlot, 6, eat breakfast before school starts. At Oaklandvale Elementary School in Saugus, Majesty Jackson, 10 (left), and Cleopatra Charlot, 6, eat breakfast before school starts. (Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe)
By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / December 11, 2011
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SAUGUS - Six-year-old Jaynie Maestre prefers her waffle sticks dipped in “tree syrup,’’ her name for maple syrup.

“It’s the syrup that comes from the tree,’’ reasoned the first-grader. “So it’s tree syrup.’’

She also loves an orange cut into the shape of a smile. “It’s sweet,’’ she declared. “I love ’em.’’

Breakfast is a healthy start to the day at Oaklandvale Elementary School, which has 266 students in grades kindergarten through five. Waffles and french toast sticks, sausage patties and bagels, fresh fruit and yogurt, and cereal are among the choices prepared by school cooks Joanne McCabe and Debbie O’Neil every day. “We try to give them a lot of choices,’’ O’Neil said, standing in the kitchen.

Massachusetts schools that serve more than 40 percent of free and reduced-cost lunches over two years and have an enrollment of at least 50 eligible students are mandated by the state to serve breakfast.

Oaklandvale was required this school year to add breakfast because its low-income population totaled 54.4 percent for the last two school years, according to state data. In recent years, the school’s socioeconomic base has shifted, with the addition of homeless students living in motels on Route 1 as well as other residents struggling in the weak economy, said principal Kathleen Stanton.

“I had known some of them were coming through the door and they hadn’t eaten,’’ Stanton said. “Sometimes the kids would look half asleep and they would tell you, ‘I’m just hungry.’ ’’

Breakfast starts at 8 a.m. when the first bus arrives. Other kids scurry in when their parents drop them off. The regular price is $1.50 for kids who can afford to pay. On a recent Monday, 27 youngsters scrambled through the line, 19 of whom received their meal for free or paid 30 cents, the reduced rate.

“Anyone who wants breakfast can come,’’ Stanton said. “It’s a convenience for parents who are hurrying in the morning to get the kids to school and themselves to work. We’re happy to offer this and would love more kids to participate.’’

Fourth-graders Jenna Linehan and Nick St. John, who ride to school together, have never missed breakfast since the program started in September.

“It [breakfast] helps you to think better and do more stuff when you’re not hungry,’’ said Linehan, 9. “Before, if I didn’t have time for breakfast, I ended up really hungry and thinking about food’’ in class.

St. John loaded his tray with two sausage patties, three waffle sticks, and a dish of sliced peaches. “I got lucky today,’’ said St. John, also 9. “Peaches are my favorite.’’

Brothers Lukah and Angel Simpson can hardly wait to get to school in the morning. “I love it that I can eat here,’’ said Lukah, 10, a fourth-grader, who piled his tray with waffle sticks, sausage patties, and Lucky Charms cereal.

Angel, 9, a third-grader, opted for Golden Grahams cereal, a bagel, a sausage patty, and waffle sticks. “Delicious,’’ he proclaimed of the round sausage.

And the waffle sticks? “Delicious,’’ he repeated.

Amanda MacDonald, a first-year math tutor in Saugus schools, helps oversee the 40-minute breakfast period. She helps the kids make healthy choices, making sure they include protein, fruit, and dairy in their meals. “Most of the kids take a full breakfast,’’ said MacDonald, 24, of Revere. “I’m happy when they choose as many food groups as they can.’’

MacDonald also makes time to tutor kids in math, spelling, or other school work. “It’s a good way for them to get ready for the school day,’’ she said.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.

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