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Manassas students fill up on ‘second-chance breakfast’

It’s 9 a.m., and a quiet middle school cafeteria suddenly fills with the voices of hungry students making a dash for the breakfast line.

On the menu: Mini blueberry pancakes, fruit, milk, and juice. Students walk through the line, grab their favorite quick-serve breakfast items and find a table to sit, eat, and chat with their friends.

“I eat it every day. I love the pancakes,” said Christopher, 14.

The students at Grace E. Metz Middle School in Manassas sit for about 10 minutes, scarf breakfast, and then it’s back to class.

On Tuesday, Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe and State Sen. Jeremy McPike joined them to recognize a nutritional milestone: getting more children to eat school breakfast.

The Manassas public school won its division in a contest to increase the number of students who eat breakfast. There were 19% more Metz students eating school breakfast between October and December 2016 versus the same time the year before. McAuliffe on Tuesday, along with “No Kid Hungry Virginia” announced the winners of the Virginia Breakfast Challenge, a campaign to increase school breakfast participation across the state.

About 460 students funnel through the breakfast lines at Metz each school day. In addition to mini pancakes, they also can also choose cereal bars, apple cinnamon muffins, and cheese sticks.

Two lines serve children in the school’s cafeteria while a kiosk on wheels serves children on the school’s second floor. Breakfast is served in two shifts: At 7 a.m. prior to the start of the school day and again at 9 a.m.

“This is a second-chance breakfast for those who don’t want to eat when they first get here in the morning, for those who aren’t awake yet,” said Sheila Hartford, Metz Middle School cafeteria school nutrition manager.

While the goal is to have students in and out in 10 minutes, it didn’t start that way. Shortly after adding the 9 a.m. breakfast shift, it took children double the amount of time to move through the line, get to a table, and eat.

A grant helped the school purchase the mobile kiosk, which helped to speed up the process. Two shifts of cafeteria workers prep food for the day: a morning crew and a lunch crew. Lunch begins not long after the second breakfast shift ends.

For the competition, school divisions were placed in one of four categories based on the group’s overall enrollment. In each category, one elementary, middle and high school won based on breakfast participation growth compared to the same timeframe in 2015. In addition, one school division from each category won based on breakfast participation growth from October to December 2016. School winners in each category, including Metz, will receive $4,000 in grants and equipment for their breakfast programs.

Prince William County Public Schools won at the division level, and also Freedom High School won the high school category. According to the school division, the big change this year at Freedom High School was increasing the number of serving lines to six. The school uses a similar “grab and go” program where students can take their bagged breakfast to class with them. Currently, the Freedom High School serves about 1,000 breakfasts every day.

“The winners of this year’s Virginia Breakfast Challenge have made sure that their students have the chance to begin every day with a nutritious breakfast,” said McAuliffe in a press release. “To ensure a hunger-free Virginia, we need to continue to support and increase access to breakfast in our schools. Together, we can end childhood hunger.”

Virginia was one of the top 10 states with the biggest growth in breakfast programs, according to recent data from the Food Research & Action Center. Virginia is on track to serve 8 million more breakfasts during the 2016-2017 school year.

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