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Westmoreland, Allegheny schools get state money to boost breakfast numbers

Jeff Himler
| Friday, May 18, 2018, 5:15 p.m.
Chocolate milk ready to be served for students in summer classes at Jeannette McKee Elementary School on Thursday, June 29, 2017 in Jeannette.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Chocolate milk ready to be served for students in summer classes at Jeannette McKee Elementary School on Thursday, June 29, 2017 in Jeannette.

Grab-and-go is a growing morning trend at area schools looking to encourage more students to fuel up on breakfast before class.

Like several other area districts, Greater Latrobe plans to use a state breakfast mini-grant to make morning meals at school more convenient.

Dan Watson, business administrator, said Greater Latrobe will use its $8,100 in grants to buy mobile serving carts, adding a breakfast option for high school and junior high school students.

The carts will bring hand-held breakfast items to students in high-traffic areas, like the corridor connecting the two schools, food service director Jillian Meloy said. Breakfast sandwiches, muffins, toaster pastries, cereal bars, fresh fruit and packaged pancakes and waffles are among menu items being considered.

The carts will “help the food service staff to serve students quickly and increase participation,” she said.

Meloy said 19 percent of the 1,266 students at the senior high partake of the school breakfasts, but only 3 percent of the 602 who attend the junior high do.

State officials believe such efforts to improve convenience for students can boost breakfast participation by 20 percent.

The Greater Latrobe schools are among 200 that received a combined $900,000 in inaugural state mini-grants this week through Gov. Tom Wolf's School Breakfast Initiative.

More than 3,000 Pennsylvania schools say they offer breakfast, but fewer than half offer alternative serving methods, according to the Wolf administration.

Half of students who receive free or reduced-price school lunches also receive breakfast. Wolf set a goal of increasing that figure to 60 percent by 2020.

Apollo-Ridge School District, where students responded positively to a grab-and-go cart at the middle school, will use $9,100 in grant money to place similar carts at its high school and elementary school.

Apollo-Ridge students have taken to picking out breakfast items such as hot sandwiches, personal pizzas and whole grain pastries, said food service director Sarah Backus.

Since the grab-and-go concept was introduced two years ago, breakfast participation has increased to more than 20 percent, she said, and the district hopes to continue that trend.

“The kids love it,” Backus said. “We have more kids eating breakfast, and that's the important thing.”

Part of the grant will be used to buy gift cards that will be offered as prizes to promote breakfast participation, she said.

Monessen City and Belle Vernon Area districts also will use mini-grants to add grab-and-go carts.

Belle Vernon's goal is to increase breakfast participation at Marion Elementary, where it already averages 32.5 percent, and at the high school, which has nearly 15 percent of students eating breakfast.

With a food cart at the high school, “kids can go right off the bus and grab a breakfast if they're running late,” said food service director Monte Maugle. “It will help us a lot on two-hour-delay days.”

Jeannette City schools will use its $4,279 grant to help purchase coolers and other equipment so it can bring breakfast to McKee Elementary students in their homerooms.

All Jeannette students get free school meals because local income levels qualify the district for the federal Community Eligibility Program.

Since elementary students now go to the cafeteria to get breakfast, it's “a hit-and-miss proposition” on how many actually eat the meal, substitute superintendent Matthew Jones said.

When meal service switches to the classroom, Jones said, “It will allow for direct supervision to ensure they're all getting their breakfast, and it allows us to increase instructional time.”

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, jhimler@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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