Although school breakfast is free for all Philadelphia public-school students, only about half take advantage of it on a given day. That's been a source of consternation for food-services administrators, who are simultaneously concerned about nourishing students and diminishing federal reimbursements.

But to Jennica Nugent, 16 and a sophomore at Northeast High School, it's not exactly a mystery.

In her view, the breakfast is only edible about half the time: "Some days, I'd think, 'This is good.' Other days, I'd be, like, 'This is disgusting. I'm not even going to bother.'"

So, she decided to do something about it.

She won a grant, and worked with her school's Wellness Club to create a student-run "Wellness Corner," offering single-serve packages of cereal and skim milk, yogurt, granola bars, shiny red apples and egg sandwiches on English muffins. They've been serving since November 2014, and now feed 175 students a day.

It may not sound like a radical menu innovation, but small changes make a big difference.

For example, yogurt parfaits are typical on school-breakfast menus around the city, but students complain that they're made with too-sweet canned fruit in syrup. So, on a recent morning, the students at the Wellness Corner were serving made-to-order parfaits with flash-frozen blueberries or strawberries.

The menu is simple, Jennica said.

"But it was such a hard process. Looking back on it now, it's kind of like, 'Are you kidding me?'"

Marc Michaels, a physical-education teacher and adviser of Northeast's student Wellness Club, began researching grant opportunities in 2013, and helped Jennica apply for a $3,000 grant from a school-nutrition initiative, called Fuel Up to Play 60, sponsored by the NFL and the National Dairy Council.

It took them more than a year to win the grant, and work with the school to clean up and transform an unused portion of the cafeteria. They used the funds to buy equipment like serving containers and a sandwich warmer. And, they recruited an enthusiastic lunch lady, Sofia Kranidiotis, who enjoys supervising the 10 students who help with the program.

And on Tuesday, the school received a second grant, this one for $3,450. Eagles tackle Beau Allen showed up not only to present the check, but to help serve breakfast and pose for photos.

The food itself is purchased by the school district, though the Wellness Club is able to request healthier items from the procurement list. The meals still must meet federal school-breakfast requirements.

Jennica, whose mother is diabetic, is used to paying close attention to what she's eating. She noticed that items on the regular menu - things like pre-packaged toaster strudel or French toast sticks with sausage - often include bleached or modified flour (though whole grains are required under federal guidelines).

She and the other students have been able to identify more wholesome options on the procurement list.

Natalie Rodriguez, 14, volunteers at the cafeteria most mornings, and also gets breakfast there.

When she heard about the Wellness Corner, she said, "I was like, 'Oh, finally, a change!' I wanted to be a part of it."

She feels better since she started eating there.

"I'm more awake during class now," she said.

Anna Okropiridze, 15, often arrives around 6:45 a.m. to set up.

"I was kind of inspired by what Jennica did," she said.

She thinks this is an important service for students who might not have anything to eat at home: "For some students, school's their only option."

And, she thinks, it's powerful, this example of a regular person effecting change right there in the school cafeteria.

"I feel like [students are] scared to shout out their ideas," she said. "But once they see someone else do it, they might get influenced by it to do other things."

Jennica has a few ideas in mind.

First up, she said, she'd like to get a filtration system for the school's fountains, where water tends toward murky.

"The only way for us to get good clean water is if we spend money in the vending machine," she said. "And when it's a choice between water or sparkling juices, a lot of the kids will go for something sugary and sweet."

Michaels is thinking even bigger. He said other schools have been contacting him, looking into how they can institute their own healthy offerings.

"I'm hoping the impact goes through out the district, and increases awareness that kids want to eat healthier foods. I hope we can provide some kind of model," he said. "Hopefully, the students will inspire other students to do something similar."

Anna said she'd like to see that, but she'd also like to see more improvements at Northeast.

"Maybe it will influence them to make some other changes in the school, too," she said. "We can work on lunch now."

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