Fourteen-year-old Leticia Berez ate breakfast at her school on Friday morning, just as she normally does, downing breakfast burritos and milk. The ninth-grader is pretty sure that having a good breakfast every morning helps her keep her 4.0 GPA.

Noel Community Arts School ninth-grader Leticia Berez with Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Bronco Eric Decker.

“By eating healthy, it helps you make better grades,” Leticia insisted. “It keeps your mind going.”

But Friday’s breakfast at Leticia’s school, Noel Community Arts School in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood, wasn’t exactly like it always is. It’s not every day that the governor of Colorado and a Denver Bronco deliver the food, as they did on this day, rolling the breakfast carts into the school cafeteria to the cheers of students.

“Well, typically we deliver the breakfast right to the classroom,” said Bob Gorman, DPS area supervisor for nutrition services. “That way it allows each child to have a free breakfast to start the day.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver wide receiver Eric Decker – accompanied by some Denver Broncos cheerleaders and DPS Chief Operating Officer David Suppes – came to Noel on Friday, breakfast carts in tow, to kick off this week’s National School Breakfast Week and Fuel Up to Play 60, a National Dairy Council program that stresses healthy eating and physical activity for students.

“I have to admit, I was one of those weird kids who had about six milks at lunch, getting a double lunch, because I knew it was very important,” Decker told the cheering students.

Leticia knows too. She wrote a prize-winning essay on the importance of school breakfast that won her an autographed jersey from Decker – and a hug.

Breakfast has increasingly become a focus for school nutritionists, both as a means to provide one more meal to low-income students whose families may not have adequate food in the house and to ensure that all students, regardless of family income, don’t start the day hungry. At schools that have breakfast in the classroom, as Noel and 26 other DPS schools do, breakfast is free for everyone.

Studies show that children who eat breakfast perform better on standardized tests and make fewer mistakes in math.

A recent Share Our Strength survey found that one in five children in Colorado are at risk of hunger, and the state’s rate of children in poverty is the fastest-growing in the nation.

By the numbers
  • One in five children in Colorado are at risk of hunger
  • Of the 217,000 children who ate federally subsidized lunches in Colorado in 2010, only 87,000 also ate breakfast
  • Between 2009-10 and 2010-11, the number of breakfasts served in Colorado schools grew from an average of 97,540 daily to 108,509, an 11 percent increase
  • Hunger Free Colorado’s goal is to have 130,000 breakfasts served in school by 2015.

Yet of the 217,000 low-income children who ate free or reduced-price lunches in Colorado schools in 2010, only 87,000 participated in a school breakfast program. So expanding the program so that more schools participate has become a top priority for Hunger Free Colorado.

Last year, the organization partnered with the state to launch the School Breakfast Challenge to encourage schools to get more eligible children to participate in school breakfast. Between the 2009-10 school year and 2010-11, the number of breakfasts served in Colorado schools rose from an average of 97,540 daily to 108,509, an 11 percent increase. The percentage of students eating school breakfast grew from 12.15 to 13.35 during that same time.

Hunger Free Colorado’s goal is to have 130,000 breakfasts served in the state’s schools by 2015.

In January, winners of the School Breakfast Challenge were announced. All the winners switched from serving a traditional breakfast in the school cafeteria to a breakfast in the classroom model, which lets students eat at their desks, making it part of their instructional time.

Katherine Moos, public affairs and development manager at Hunger Free Colorado, said there are good reasons to switch from breakfast served in the cafeteria to breakfast served in the classroom.

“Sometimes it’s only the noticeably poor who participate, so some children might need it, but it’s not emotionally comfortable for them to eat in the cafeteria before school. It’s stigmatizing.”

“We’ve found in many schools, when breakfast is served in cafeteria before school, it’s difficult to access,” she said. “Even though the staff is there, they’ve prepared a meal to eat, but the kids don’t get there, or buses get there late, or there’s pressure to hang out with kids on the playground.

“Sometimes it’s only the noticeably poor who participate, so some children might need it, but it’s not emotionally comfortable for them to eat in the cafeteria before school. It’s stigmatizing.”

Clayton Elementary in Aurora, the winner in the Breakfast Challenge, moved to a breakfast in the classroom model and boosted its participation rate 72 percent.

At present, DPS serves about 20,000 free breakfasts every day to students, including breakfast in the classroom in 27 schools. That’s nearly double the number of schools that participated in the breakfast in the classroom program last year.

A governor, a Bronco and some cheerleaders kick off National School Breakfast Week