A weekend interview with Rick Kurtz, Pasco schools director of food and nutrition services
Every year, Florida schools make a big deal about having students sleep well and eat a healthy breakfast before they come to take the FCAT exam. They even offer parents recommendations of which food and drink their kids should consume. This year, the Pasco school district has decided to take it a step further, offering all FCAT test takers a free breakfast at school each day of the test. Food and Nutrition Services director Rick Kurtz explained the new program to reporter Jeff Solochek.
I understand you're going to be doing free breakfast at schools. Why?
A couple of reasons. We know, and studies have consistently shown, that students that have breakfast -- and have breakfast at school -- have less disruptions later in the day. They're more cognitive. They're more attentive. They're less fidgety in the classroom. And we think because of what the data shows, it would be a good initiative on our part to offer that for any student, and all students, that are taking the FCAT test. And we offer it starting the day before the official test so they can get some practice in.
They need practice eating breakfast?
Practice with the logistics of eating breakfast. Because it might be breakfast in the classroom during FCAT. And breakfast during any other time might be more likely in the dining room.
You've never done this before?
We have not gone and offered this across the board before. That is correct.
So what got you to do it? And how can you afford it?
A couple of things. Last year McDonald's had offered free breakfast right before FCAT. And we saw that was good intentions, but it actually created disruptions for some of the schools because some of the parents were coming in late because they were stuck in the drive-through line at McDonald's. And we sat down and looked at the data and thought it was something we should offer up and something we should do.
What's going to be for breakfast?
Some of this will depend on whether they are going to have breakfast in the classroom or breakfast in the dining room. When we are looking at what is available to the students, we want something that teachers will be comfortable with if it's a classroom deal.
So no pancakes with syrup?
Exactly. [Kurtz reviewed the specific offerings. See the menus here.]
So you do this about a half an hour before school starts?
Yes. Each school can have a slightly different schedule for when they offer breakfast. It's generally a minimum of 20 minutes before the bell.
What do you do then? Close at a certain time to make sure everyone gets to class on time?
During non-FCAT, let's say there's a bus that's late. We offer breakfast even to students who arrive on campus late, in elementary schools in particular. In secondary schools, it would be up to the principals. Most schools will allow a student to get a breakfast and then bring it to the classroom.
How does a school afford to do this? It sounds like it would be expensive if you have 67,000 kids getting free breakfast five days in a row.
Well, it's not every students. It's only the grades that are taking the test.
Okay, so, 45,000 students. It's a lot of kids.
Yeah. Right now, 34 of our schools are free breakfast every day anyway. We treat it like you would a universal program. So even though we're giving away this breakfast for free, we do keep track of every student that participates. So if a "free" student has the meal, we get reimbursed at the free student level. If a "reduced" student, we get reimbursed at the reduced student level. And if it's a paid student, then we would be absorbing that cost.
And you're doing it because it's the right thing to do?
Well, I hope it works out.
I do too. So far, we've gotten lots of appreciation emails and support from principals who also agree that they would like their students to be as prepared as possible to be successful on these tests. And we think having breakfast at school is just one of the things that students can do to be as prepared as possible.