Breakfast at Walls: An Unappreciated Service
Walls breakfast on Jan. 23 / Credits: Carys Shepard
DCPS offers every one of its students free breakfast, including those at School Without Walls. To get breakfast, students simply have to walk into the room beside the Commons, type their student ID into a keypad, and pick what food they would like.
Studies by the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that breakfast helps decrease hunger for up to four hours after eating and can improve students’ mood and alertness. Although the D.C. Healthy Schools Act of 2010 made school breakfast free for everyone, the policy’s specific goal was to increase the meal’s accessibility to low-income students who might not have breakfast at home. During the 2017-18 school year, 46 percent of low income DCPS students ate school breakfast, a far cry from the goal of 70 percent, but still an improvement from previous years.
According to DCPS school data, only 8 percent of the Walls student population is classified as “at risk.” But even though the majority of Walls is not the target population for school breakfasts, many students still benefit from eating breakfast at school. Referring to the free breakfast, sophomore Chiara Galloway-Slick said, “I think it’s so helpful because I would not eat breakfast otherwise.” Seniors Myra Shalaty and Asha Meuller both said they get breakfast “every day.”
DCPS Food and Nutrition Services says on its website that it “proudly holds some of the highest nutrition standards of any school district in the country.” To fulfill these standards, each student is required to take something from each food group regardless of their preferences. This includes one fruit, one whole grain, and milk, with the option of a meat or meat alternative.
Interim director LaMonika Jones of D.C. Hunger Solutions, a non-profit that works with DCPS to eliminate child hunger, said in an interview that the system’s approach to break fast appeals to everyone’s interests. “D.C. Public Schools school nutrition staff spend time hearing from students, parents, and other staff about what they would like to see served during breakfast,” she said.
Yet breakfast’s inherent lack of choice leads to students throwing away a lot of food, mostly milk and fruit. “Sometimes the fruit is not ripe or it is rotten or it’s just some things that I can’t have so then I throw away most of the fruit,” Mueller said.
Galloway-Slick agreed that she wastes part of the breakfast, saying, “I don’t drink the milk, and I usually don’t eat the graham crackers.”
Shalaty expressed a similar sentiment, saying she wished the school “would let us just choose what we want instead of making us get… the full meal, because sometimes I only want one part of the breakfast and I end up throwing it away.”
Meuller and Shalaty both said that they like the breakfast at Walls most of the time. Despite its challenges, the School Without Walls breakfast program has managed to benefit many students.