WALKER -- Bonnie Cox’s students at Walker Elementary refer to them as their “grab bags.”

What exactly is a “grab bag,” you ask?

A “grab bag” is nothing more than a clear plastic bag, filled with a few healthy snacks and a beverage that students grab as they head to their homeroom classes before munching on what's inside.

The idea might sound simple, but this bag of nutritional goodies eaten in the classroom is the reason students at a pair of local schools are participating in school-served breakfast more than ever before.

Earlier this year, two Livingston Parish schools mixed up their morning routine by implementing “Breakfast in the Classroom,” a national initiative that adds one key ingredient to the traditional school breakfast approach: the classroom.

With “Breakfast in the Classroom,” the most important meal of the day becomes available to all students — no matter the income level — and is eaten in their homeroom classes after the opening bell to ensure as many students as possible participate.

The program started in 2010 and is currently funded in 44 districts nationwide, serving 85,000 students in 10 states, including Louisiana.

So far, only Walker Elementary and North Corbin Junior High (NCJH) have enacted the program, which was funded by a $102,000 grant from Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom, in Livingston Parish.

But that number is bound to grow once other schools see the benefits the program has already had on those students so far.

“Breakfast in the Classroom in an investment in our students,” said Sommer Purvis, assistant director of child nutrition for Livingston Parish Public Schools who wrote the grant to get the program started. “It’s all for them.”

Since the program was put into effect at Walker Elementary and North Corbin Junior High, breakfast participation has skyrocketed.

Since last October, 81 percent of NCJH and Walker Elementary’s combined 1,100 students eat breakfast daily in their homeroom classes, giving them a healthy source of energy to start the day.

The free breakfast offers students a variety of hot and cold items, including whole grain pancakes, french toast sticks, sausage biscuits, granola bars, yogurt, fresh fruit, and — everyone’s favorite — frozen pizza. Students also have their choice of juice or milk.

“Breakfast in the Classroom” has been met with wild success since it was introduced in Livingston Parish, with participating principals and teachers agreeing that it’s helped students with concentration and learning, increased instructional time, and relationships with each other.

“Middle school students are straight lethargic when they show up here in the morning, so it’s an active process, just sharing their meals and conversing with one another,” said NCJH Principal Carolyn Vosburg. “It something that wakes them up right off the bat. Their brains are ready for learning, and they’re 100 percent ready to go everyday.”

Cox, the principal at Walker Elementary, said it took her teachers “some time” to get acclimated to the new breakfast routine, but they’re all used to it now.

And they all love it.

“They can’t even imagine what they’d do without this now,” Cox said. “Everybody is on board now. It seems like it’s caused more organization in the school. I just can’t say enough about this program.”

On Thursday, Oct. 26, local stakeholders representing Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom got to see exactly how the action unfolds at NCJH, where more than 600 hungry students grabbed their ready-made breakfasts from one of three kiosks located around campus.

In the gym, cafeteria workers Felicia Lee, Susan Wheat, Cheryl Charlin, Charlene Gibson and cafeteria manager Billie Hunter cheerfully greeted students as they handed them a clear plastic bag with a warm sausage biscuit, a fruit and a juice box inside.

Once students grabbed their breakfast bags, they hurried off to their homeroom classes to chow down and mingle amongst themselves while teachers called roll and collected homework — no time or food wasted.

With the early run of success, “Breakfast in the Classroom” likely isn’t going anywhere soon — except to other schools.

It will soon be available at Levi Milton Elementary, beginning Nov. 6, thanks to a $41,000 grant that will help purchase walk-in coolers, freezers, small equipment, staffing, training and marketing (all this was purchased for Walker Elementary and NCJH, as well).

Teresa Brown, president of the School Nutrition Association of Louisiana, summed the entire project up best.

“Children are ready to learn when they’ve had their breakfast,” Brown said. “It’s that simple.”

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