Last year at DeSmet Public School, Principal Matthew Driessen noticed a trend: Every morning, beginning around 9:45 and continuing through lunch, middle school students would get referred to his office for disruptive behavior.
They’d show up, Driessen said, “looking like they were running on empty.” Even though every student had the option to eat breakfast at DeSmet at 8 a.m., not all chose to, and some just weren’t hungry that early.
But later in the morning, many were beginning to crash, and they wound up in Driessen’s office where he gave them a granola bar if he had an extra. This year, the school decided to try something new to address that problem.
Every day at around 10 a.m., students have a new 15-minute break built into their schedule, during which they line up in the hallway to choose snacks from a food cart. Kitchen Manager Anne Brown cooks and arranges several snack options, including some baked goods she makes from scratch.
There are homemade muffins, cheese sticks, yogurt, sandwiches and fresh fruit. Brown also has a new blender for making smoothies, which the students love, she said.
“The smoothies are great because I can sneak in the veggies,” Brown joked.
The school used grant funding from Montana No Kid Hungry and Fuel Up to Play60 to pay for the cart and the extra food. Since introducing the “secondies,” as Driessen calls them, office referrals have dropped by 80 percent.
“One part of that is, yeah, they're hungry,” Driessen said. “The other thing is they have an extended social time. The kids get to sit and talk and visit with each other over some food, and it's relaxing. And then they hit the rest of their classes after that break, they have lunch a couple hours later, and the day goes real well.”
The grants that allow DeSmet to provide the second breakfast will expire at the end of the year. Driessen said with school funding getting cut at the federal and state level, grants are becoming integral at this point.
Jessica Doede, a master’s student at the University of Montana who works in the health office at DeSmet, helped write the grants for the project. She said it has been great to see their hard work pay off, and to witness the changes in student behavior.
Each week, three students are in charge of pushing the cart to and from the kitchen for snack time. Last week’s students — Heavyn Miller, Chayla Charboneau and Jeselle Ketchem — said having the extra food makes class better.
“I like it, I think it’s a good idea,” said Jeselle, 11. “Instead of being hungry all morning, you can get a snack and go to class.”
The school’s class schedule also was changed this year to align the more difficult classes with students’ sleep patterns. For the older students, core classes were moved to the afternoon, after they’ve eaten and are more attentive and awake.
“We’ve seen an increase in the scores with our STAR assessments and math testing,” Driessen said. “Our average was an entire grade increase in one semester in math and English language arts, so it has pretty profound effects as part of a whole program.”
Driessen can empathize with the kids who had trouble paying attention before second breakfast was introduced.
"I remember when I was a kid and I was hungry, I didn't care what the teachers were saying. We’ve all had those low-sugar moments," he said.
"Can you imagine having a low-sugar moment when you're trying to learn inequalities in math? It's just not a good combination."