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Controversy brews over coffee at school

Knox County Schools is employing a new strategy to help high school students recognize the importance of a healthy breakfast … coffee.

Bearden, Farragut and Powell high schools were chosen to participate in a pilot program in which the three schools will offer coffee products to students during breakfast and lunch.

Jon Dickl, KCS’ school nutrition director, said the program was designed to help boost the percentage of high school students participating in the National School Breakfast Program.

“We have extremely low participation in the National School Breakfast program. For example, at Bearden High School, we have about five percent participation,” he said.

Originally the plan was to pilot the program at FHS and Powell High School. But while at BHS for a meeting, Dickl said he noticed a large number of students with coffee from Starbucks and McDonalds.

“And several of them had Starbucks snacks and McDonalds food items,” he added.

Dickl said he felt the best way to help bring in some of those students who are picking up coffee and less nutritious food items before school was to offer the coffee on campus.

“When we have only five percent of students participating in the breakfast program, that means the other 95 percent are either eating breakfast at home or getting breakfast at an outside, not as nutritious, competitor such as Starbucks, or they are skipping it,” he said.

Dickl plans to pull the October 2009 breakfast sales and compare them to October 2010 sales to see if the program has made a difference.

“That won’t be based on a dollar volume; it will be based on a meal volume. If it doesn’t work I will abandon it and try to find something else that is maybe a little less controversial. I am just trying to make a difference,” he said.

Dickl knows from experience the importance of having a nutritious breakfast.

“As a child I grew up somewhat economically needy. There were many days I came to school and I was exhausted and I didn’t eat breakfast. By third period I was struggling to pay attention and thinking about what we were having for lunch. So I know the importance of having a good breakfast and being prepared, educationally, for the day,” he said.

Two of the products being served are not completely without nutritional value, Dikl said.

“For example the iced coffee is 30 percent skim milk and it has 10 percent of the [recommended] daily value of calcium and it has 4 grams of protein.

“The cappuccino product is a powdered cappuccino similar to what you would find in a convenience store. It is sugar free; it has about 100 calories per serving and is very low fat. It actually delivers eight percent of the [recommended] daily value of calcium and two grams of protein. Plus it delivers two percent of the [recommended] daily value of iron.

“Those two products make up between 90 to 95 percent of our total student purchases so far within the pilot, so truly caffeinated coffee is only making up between 3 to 7 percent,” he added.

Parents who do not want their children to be allowed to buy coffee products at school can contact the school cafeteria manager to have a restriction put on their child’s account.

“We are not trying to subvert parental control at all in this. If I didn’t want my child to have a cup of coffee I wouldn’t want the school or any group trying to tell me my child could purchase it if I didn’t want them to do it,” Dickl said.


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