By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers
LINCOLN PARK — Students at Lafayette Elementary School got some help firing up for the day Wednesday with a breakfast visit from some special guests.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Michigan Department of Education and Lincoln Park Public Schools were joined by Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson and former Lion Luther Elliss to celebrate National School Breakfast Week and the district’s recently awarded status by the Education Department as a Gold Award winner in the Michigan School Breakfast Challenge.
Lincoln Park increased student participation in its school breakfast program by 105 percent during the past year. The guests ate breakfast with students first thing Wednesday before moving to the gymnasium for an all-school assembly. Audrey Rowe, head of special nutrition programs for the USDA, congratulated students on their award on behalf of herself, her department and President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
Shortly afterward came what students regarded as the main attraction.
“I haven’t heard applause like that in a lo-o-ong time,” said Hanson in response to their welcoming ovation. Then he got down to business: explaining how important breakfast is to students.
“I’m a kicker, so my right leg has to move fast,” Hanson said. “And Luther, his whole body has to move fast, because he actually hit people.
“What you learn is that as a professional athlete, you become a professional eater. But you don’t just eat anything. You learn to eat the things that make your body work right.”
“What you put into your body is what makes it work good for that day or for that week, or for us, for that game. Nutrition makes your muscles get big.”
“Breakfast is so important,” Elliss said. “If our kids don’t eat breakfast, they are grouchy.
“You guys are lucky and blessed enough to have breakfast at school with your friends.”
After taking a few questions, the athletes introduced Lions mascot Roary, and the three of them led students in a section-by-section cheer of “Ready, set, go!” the theme for the 2010 National School Breakfast Week.
Cheryl Stamper, Robin Materi and Kitty Wilson were among the moms who prepare breakfast for Lafayette students each morning and took a break for some congratulations from Roary and the other guests.
“We’re just excited for the children,” Stamper said.
State school and USDA officials say a healthy school breakfast is shown to improve grades, increase student attentiveness in class, improve student behavior and increase school attendance.
Mike Flanagan, Michigan’s superintendent of public instruction, issued the Michigan School Breakfast Challenge to public and nonpublic schools to increase their school breakfast participation by 50 percent.
In the first year alone, 2008-09, 81 school districts met the challenge, with several schools far exceeding that aim. Nearly 5 million more school breakfasts were served to Michigan school children.
The 45.2 million school breakfasts served statewide during 2008-09 marked a 12.4 percent increase over the previous year.
State school officials say that every school day, more than 251,000 school breakfasts are served to Michigan children at more than 2,900 sites.