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Breakfast Club Arrives At Alternative High School By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Friday March 31, 2006

The little red wagons have been swapped for grown-up soft coolers (still red), wagon operators have been replaced by food runners about twice as tall, and food portions are slightly larger, but everything else is about the same: Alternative High School students are receiving a free morning meal. 

On the heels of a successful pilot at Le Conte Elementary School, where students receive classmate-operated red wagon deliveries of trans fat-free, corn syrup-free breakfast food each morning, Alternative High School students are the latest recipients of the Berkeley universal breakfast program. 

Every morning at 8:45 a.m., a representative from each classroom picks up a freezer-sized cooler bag filled with fresh fruits, milk, fresh-baked muffins, organic cereal and other healthy comestibles, and carries the supplies back to classmates for a morning feast. Students eat while teachers take attendance and give announcements. 

Universal breakfast at the alternative school is part of a districtwide effort to encourage students to fill up on wholesome food in the morning. The program is predominantly funded through a federal grant and state reimbursements. 

“All kids should have a healthy start to their day, and not all kids get one,” said Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services for the Berkeley Unified School District. 

Cragmont and Washington elementary schools are expected to join the program in the next six weeks, she said. 

Alternative High School Health Specialist Joy Moore says many students don’t eat breakfast before coming to school. 

“We’re concerned that the kids come to school without eating, then rush to the liquor store at break,” she said, where they buy junk food like soda, packaged doughnuts and candy. 

On March 22, students at the alternative school ate their first free breakfast. When the Daily Planet visited the school Wednesday, about half the students were chowing down—and offering mixed reviews.  

“It’s O.K.,” said Duillermo Ronquillo, a senior, who consumed a muffin in just a few bites. “It could be better. It kind of looks like the food we got back in kindergarten when we got cookies and milk.” 

Wednesday’s meal included low-fat, hormone- and antibiotic-free milk, apples and muffins baked fresh from the Fullbloom Bakery. Another day during the week, students might get fresh scones, yogurt and juice, or foccacia, pears and milk.  

Mayra Marin, a senior, commended the pastries for keeping her alert during class.  

“It helps me stay awake,” she said. “It gives me energy.” 

History teacher Jorge Melgoza agreed the food helps keep students’ attention. 

“When they do eat, they focus,” he said. “Whereas before, they would just nod off.” On Wednesday, though, Melgoza was the only one in his class eating. 

Marcos Soto, a senior, wasn’t eating because he had munched on two doughnuts and chocolate milk before school. Lisette Cooper, a senior, had also already eaten breakfast, but she said she generally likes what the district serves. 

“It’s healthy for you, it’s not like we’re eating junk food,” she said. “If we didn’t have this, we’d be at the store buying chips or soda.” 

Food services assistant Sulma Zevallos said that about half the meals are coming back untouched. “But yesterday, one bag came back totally empty,” she said. 

Moore guesses students are still getting acclimated to the program and to a menu that may be different from what they’re used to eating. Also, she said some students were expecting a hot breakfast—pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage—and were mildly disappointed to see cold food only. Other students, like Ronquillo, complain the portions are “kid-sized.” 

But Moore is convinced their complaints indicate that the program is working. 

They went from having no breakfast to demanding a better breakfast,” she said. “They’re invested in the program.”