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Taneytown named CCPS winner in Maryland Breakfast Challenge

TANEYTOWN — Every morning, Taneytown Elementary School cafeteria manager Lisa Smith and her staff begin their day by preparing breakfast for the entire study body.

Once that breakfast of toast, fruit, juice, cereal, doughnuts, Pop-Tarts and other items is ready, it is put in bins and distributed to each classroom. It takes her and her cafeteria staff about two hours to prepare and deliver the meals to more than 400 students in the 24 classrooms at the school.

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For showing the highest increase in students who ate school breakfast compared with the school's total enrollment, Taneytown Elementary was named Carroll County Public Schools winner for the 2014-15 Maryland Breakfast Challenge. The school received a $2,000 award and a banner from the Maryland No Kid Hungry campaign.

With a $20,450 mini grant from Action for Healthy Kids, the school was able to purchase hot holding bags, which allowed cafeteria staff to pilot a hot breakfast entree program for fourth- and fifth-graders.

Breakfast is an essential meal, helping students perform better academically, said Karen Sarno, CCPS supervisor of food services. Offering hot breakfast and more variety has boosted student participation in the program, Smith said.

"They seemed to like it," Smith said.

According to Maryland State Department of Education information, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found the program decreases tardiness, reduces suspensions and improves academics among those who participate.

The program has been such a success at Taneytown Elementary that officials at the school plan to expand it and provide hot breakfast to all of their students at least once a week next year, Smith said.

Currently the school doesn't have the capacity to give all students a hot breakfast every morning.

"It's impossible to do the whole school at one time. … We don't have enough of the holding bags," Smith said.

The breakfasts at Taneytown Elementary are offered through the Maryland Meals for Achievement program, a breakfast project that began in 1998 in which schools provide meals in the classroom every morning and all students are served for free, regardless of family income.

Part of the program requirement is to serve breakfast in the classrooms rather than in the cafeteria.

"It's less transitional time and less loss of instructional time," Taneytown Elementary principal Christy Farver said.

Barriers to students eating breakfast through the program include: rushed morning schedules, transportation issues, not feeling hungry first thing in the morning, the social stigma of getting school meals and peer pressure to play instead of eat breakfast, according to No Kid Hungry information.

The breakfast program improves student access to a healthy breakfast by making the meal convenient for students, Sarno said.

Farver said the program is important to "make sure [students] are getting a nutritious breakfast or to make sure that they are eating and are able to focus on schoolwork and their academics."

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Taneytown Elementary began participating in the program in the 2011-12 academic year.

When the school first began offering breakfast through the program, it offered one choice, but it now offers multiple choices — this might be the reason more kids are taking advantage of the program, Smith said.

Any school that participates in the federal School Breakfast Program and also has at least 40 percent of its students qualify for Free and Reduced Price Meals can apply to participate.

Taneytown Elementary is one of three elementary schools in the county designated as a Title 1 Schoolwide school in the 2014-15 academic year, in addition to Elmer Wolfe and Robert Moton elementary schools.

This year, four Carroll public schools participated in the Maryland Meals for Achievement program, including three Westminster schools: Robert Moton Elementary, Crossroads Middle School and the Gateway School.

Robert Moton was also the recipient of a mini grant and will be piloting a hot breakfast program later this year, Sarno said.

"It's been successful and the kids do enjoy it. It's nice to know there is also breakfast available for parents who drop their kids off early and don't have time for breakfast," Sarno said. "We are trying to spread the word about the program."

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