After the 45-minute to hourlong bus ride from east of U.S. 101 to the neighboring towns of Menlo Park and Atherton, students grab a piece of fruit -- grapes, bananas, kiwis, pears, apples and other options -- before they file into classrooms at Las Lomitas Elementary and La Entrada Middle schools.
Through a partnership with South San Francisco-based fruit delivery service FruitGuys, the two-school Las Lomitas Elementary School District is piloting a program this school year in which all district students and staff are offered breakfast items during the start of their school days and at recess.
The focus is on feeding the 85 Tinsley Transfer Program students, who wake up early to journey from the bayside of Menlo Park or East Palo Alto to Las Lomitas in west Atherton and La Entrada in west Menlo Park, said Superintendent Beth Polito. Buses come by for these students no later than 7 a.m. to take them to school, according to Alain Camou, principal of Las Lomitas School.
"It's intended to be a solution to the 'breakfast problem,'" Polito said. "Children were sitting on the bus and arriving (at) school, and a number of them hadn't had breakfast." When students are hungry and tired from a lack of breakfast, their attention spans are shorter, making it more difficult for them to learn, she said.
The food helps fuel students' bodies, and when they come back from 10 a.m. recess they are ready to learn, Katie Gordon, a first grade teacher at Las Lomitas, said in an email. Not only that, but students come to class in an excited mood after picking up fruit, she said.
Camou said that even if students eat breakfast before they board the bus to school, it's still a long time before they sit down for lunch at 11:45.
It's not just the students coming from east of U.S. 101 who might be struggling to eat enough during the school day, he said.
"The assumption is the child across the street (from the school) doesn't have issues or concerns" about food, he said. The food program "is opening it up to everyone," he noted.
The district is paying for the pilot, which launched in September, with some contributions from site budgets and parent teacher associations at both schools, Polito said. The cases of fruit cost about $40 to $60 each, and the district orders four per week, with two for each school, she said.
At recess, the district also offers Las Lomitas students granola bars. At La Entrada, there are additional perishable snacks -- such as string cheese and yogurt -- since there is a kitchen to store them.
Officials across San Mateo County are working to address the student hunger problem. In March, a coalition of county-based groups, including the San Mateo County Office of Education, will host "Breakfast Up!" Representatives from California Food Policy Advocates and the county's School Breakfast Working Group will talk about the importance of school breakfast and the disparities between students who receive breakfast and those who don't in the county.
Attendees will brainstorm on how to close the "breakfast gap" in the county and beyond, according to the event description. The event takes place on March 9 from 10 a.m. to noon at 101 Twin Dolphin Drive in Redwood City.
The district will evaluate the FruitGuys program at the end of the school year, Polito said. It could partner with the Sequoia Healthcare District next school year to continue and possibly expand the program, she said.