Breakfast at home isn't always a given for the 512 students at H.A. Brown Elementary School.
But as soon as the bell rings, students know they can count on a meal served with the first lessons of the day. On Wednesday, fourth-grade classes worked on morning editing exercises while feasting on chocolate chip muffins, fruit, and milk.
"The food is tasty," said Saniyah Roseingram.
"Breakfast is healthy for us," added Senniyah Mtagwa.
Mayor Kenney, School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., and City Councilwoman Helen Gym toured Brown on Wednesday, sharing a meal and marking National School Breakfast Week.
Brown, on East Sergeant Street in Kensington, is a leader in the Philadelphia School District's breakfast program, with 75 percent of the students partaking in the meal daily.
Philadelphia has long offered a free breakfast to every student, but participation is typically lackluster -- less than half citywide. When principal Connie Carnivale arrived at Brown five years ago, only about 30 percent of students ate breakfast there. She and her faculty decided to make the meal more accessible, feeding students in their classrooms just after the school day began.
Since the new program was begun two years ago, the school has higher attendance, less truancy, and more students reading at grade level, and Carnivale said she thinks breakfast is a part of that.
"I think a lot of it has to do with, we're getting them here on time, we're getting them breakfast, and they're starting their learning program," she said.
The district is pushing for more breakfast participation, particularly in the lowest-performing schools, said Wayne Grasela, senior vice president for food services.
Breakfast in classrooms is messier than other options, and it means more work for staff. Still, more than 100 district schools go that route. Others offer breakfast in cafeterias before school. Some feed pupils in hallways or offer grab-and-go breakfasts.
At Brown, breakfast in the classroom is a major undertaking. The school's two food service workers and one volunteer begin preparing at 6:30 to have the food ready to go for 29 classrooms. When students walk in, their breakfast is waiting for them.
The school emphasizes community and cooperative learning, and having students sit in groups together, eating and talking, has been a bonus, the principal said. Food service and custodial staff come to collect uneaten meals and trash by mid-morning, but students do a lot of the work themselves.
"They take pride and ownership in cleaning up," Carnivale said.
Gym, who is a School District parent, said she loved seeing what in-class breakfast has fostered at Brown.
"You don't have to squash all your food in in a hurry," Gym told the class of fourth graders. "And eating together makes us get to know each other more."
What would pupils like to see more of?
"Omelet station," the mayor joked.
Jamie Garcia, a fourth grader, had a serious suggestion.