National School Breakfast Week: Making a difference
Every year, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) sponsors National School Breakfast Week (#NSBW19) during the first full week in March. ACT research found that, on average, among students who had taken the test twice, those who reported eating breakfast before the second test earned a higher ACT® Composite score on that test than on the first test.
Read more below to learn about an incredible grassroots initiative to help students overcome barriers when taking the ACT test. Special thanks to Clay Hollister and all the volunteers who have helped so many students achieve education and workplace success.
ICYMI: @IROQUOIS_HS makes ACT accessible for students with free food and transportation https://t.co/wfDUFobvKT #WeAreJCPS @JCPSDEP1
— JCPS (@JCPSKY) February 11, 2019
What is your title, role, and location?
My name is Clay Hollister. I am the Building Assessment Coordinator at Iroquois High School (JCPS) in Louisville, KY.
Please describe the initiative.
Our school population consists of 413 students who are English Language Learners (ELL) and 175 Exceptional Child Education (ECE) students, out of approximately 1,200 total students. We are a Title I school and have a great deal of high-need students (the highest free/reduced priced lunch in our district, along with the most homeless students, area with the lowest income zip code, etc.). Our students struggle to graduate high school, much less continue their education in college.
To entice our students to show up to their national ACT testing dates, Iroquois High School developed an initiative to eliminate common barriers to student success. Our staff realized that when it comes to our students taking the ACT test, our students face three main barriers:
- Motivation to show up early to take the test
- Transportation to and from the testing site
- Lack of nutritional food before taking a high-stakes test
To combat this, we decided to make everything as simple as possible for every student signed up to take the test. All they have to do is show up to our school, and we’ll take care of the rest – except for taking the test, of course!
As students register for the test, I make sure they all pick the same location to test and coordinate for a school bus to take them to their test site. Meanwhile, I reach out to community members for donations or volunteers. We use donations and money to purchase the food for breakfast, and my volunteers do everything from prepare food to clean up afterwards.
Why did you start this initiative?
Our high school is a persistently low-performing school in Kentucky. We have one of the highest concentrations of lower socioeconomic students who attend our school. Many of them do not have parents that graduated from high school, much less college.
We are also unique because we have 35+ languages and 35+ countries represented in our school. Many of our students are refugees or immigrants who have endured a lot of trauma in their young lives.
Finally, we have the highest number of homeless students in our district.
Despite all of these factors inhibiting potential success for our students, we make a point to try to eliminate some of the difficulties they might face in becoming college-ready, such as successfully taking the ACT test.
What does the day of the test look like?
The day of the test, I usually go to school and start cooking food at 4:30 in the morning! My volunteers start showing up at 6:00 a.m. to help cook and set up, my teacher chaperones begin showing up at 6:15 a.m., and the testing students begin coming in at 6:30a.m. The students check in, eat, and then board the buses to go to the test location.
At the testing site, we hand out pencils, calculators, tickets, and snack bags. Our chaperones wait until the students finish testing, board the kids back up on the buses, and head back where we hand out public transportation tickets or where students may call for rides.
How long has it been around?
The February 2019 national test date was the 5th time I have organized the event, although it has been going on in some form for about two years.
How many students have benefited over the years?
In total, I would say easily more than 1,000 students. However, in my time of running the breakfast, I have helped probably over 300 students.
How is it funded?
I started by using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to ask for donations from the community. Over the past two years, I’ve been able to raise about $1,000, and secured donations and discounts from a local caterer.
Our school contracts a local bus company to drive our students from our high school to their testing locations. Recently, a division of our district known as the Diversity, Equity, and Poverty Department began providing funds for one of the buses through an initiative to make testing situations more equitable.
What advice do you have for students you’re helping serve through this initiative?
I would advise our students to fully use the additional opportunities we are providing to them.
Study, practice, rest, and do your best to show colleges and universities your potential to get in the door of opportunity. The best way to be appreciative of opportunities offered to you is to fully seize and make the best of them.
This breakfast is the effort of many community and school members who believe in the future of our students, and we are excited to see how they capitalize on this opportunity.
Interested in this blog? Read more about how ACT and our partners and supporters are leveling the playing field and making breakfast accessible to all students:
- Iroquois High makes ACT accessible for students with free food and transportation
- Sleeping Well, Eating Breakfast, and Feeling Calm: How Students’ Experiences Relate to ACT Scores
- ACT’s Breakfast Initiative: Helping to Build Equity on Test Day
- ACT to Launch Pilot Program Providing Free Breakfast before ACT Test
- Commonwealth of Virginia and ACT to Launch Breakfast Pilot Program
- Coming soon: Research from ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning and Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice on issues of food insecurity and homelessness for students in K-12 and postsecondary. Chief Officer Jim Larimore sits on the organization’s board and we are working together on forthcoming research on these critical issues.
- Up next: ACT’s State and Federal Programs department continues to work with select school districts to pilot a new breakfast before testing initiative. The initiative is in reaction to research demonstrating that students who are hungry—particularly those who have missed breakfast—are less able to perform academically, especially when testing. ACT will be expanding the pilot program to identified schools in Texas and Florida to provide their students a healthy breakfast before the ACT test.
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