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The Breakfast Packing Team: serving up career skills

November 4, 2015

As the carts enter the room, the workers descend in a purposeful frenzy, each grabbing a crate off of the cart and moving to their assigned place around a long table. Their hands move quickly, brows furrowed, concentrating hard on the task at hand.

“OK, this bag is ready to go!” shouts one.

“I need three more for this bag!” shouts another.

The scene could be set at a factory assembly line, but the crates are filled with bagels, juice, milk and silverware and the workers are all under five feet tall. The third-grade “workers” are part of Kenneth L Rutherford’s (KLR) “Breakfast Packing Team.”

The Breakfast Packing Team was created after KLR was selected as a school eligible to serve breakfast and lunch to all students free of charge under the Community Eligibility Program.

Children in all grades meet in the cafeteria each school day to prepare the next day’s school-wide breakfast. One team brings back empty breakfast carts, while another counts out and sorts breakfast items to be included in each classes’ meal, following lists that accommodate allergies and other dietary restrictions.

Even the youngest students are involved: kindergarteners and first graders bundle silverware together, learning to sort items in groups of 10.

Preparing its students to be “life-ready” is one of the goals of the Monticello Central School District. Participating in the Breakfast Packing Team, familiarizes students with the basic skills necessary to be an employee in the future. Ultimately, students learn counting, teamwork, communication and even manners.

“It’s a chance to see what it would be like to have a job,” said third grade teacher Susie Balfour. “It’s amazing to see their faces light up when they bite into a bagel that they themselves helped to package and distribute.”

“I absolutely love this program,” said Heidi Kennedy, Unit Cook at KLR. “The kids are so much more respectful; we hear so many more ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous.’ I think the students see how much work goes into preparing their meals and they have a newfound respect for the kitchen team.”

“I like how we work as a team to get breakfast ready,” said Jayden Berrios, a fourth grade student in Mrs. Balfour’s class.

Continuous improvement is a hallmark of the Breakfast Packing Team. The staff consistently works to keep the program as efficient as possible, accommodating a wide variety of allergies and dietary restrictions while reducing waste. But no improvement is more poignant than the confidence students build. One of the most invaluable lessons that they learn through the program is that perseverance pays off.

“I like working with the breakfast program,” said third grader Robert Baker, “I used to be really slow when I packed bagels, but now I can do them really fast. It makes me feel good.”