This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

At 7:45 a.m. on a school day, the West Lenoir Elementary School cafeteria is dead quiet.

No running, shrieking or skidding. No paper airplanes or spitballs flying overhead. No noise.

The students are there. They’re just all in their classrooms, quietly eating breakfast with their teachers and classmates.

West Lenoir started offering free breakfast in the classroom in January. It was the first school in the county to offer the program; now Gamewell Middle and Granite Falls Middle have followed suit.

The program provides a calm start to the day, instead of a chaotic cafeteria or a rushed breakfast at home, principal Felicia Simmons said.

“Parents are not as rushed,” Simmons said. “There’s not a lot of anxiety. Students are ready to work.”

The meals are relatively simple to execute. Cafeteria staff bring food to each classroom on a cart, and it’s up to each individual teacher how the students are served – individually or all at once. Students can choose between a hot option, such as oatmeal, or a cold one, such as cereal.

Since the program started, the number of tardy students has dropped. And in Bob Kuenzel’s second-grade classroom, midday distractions are down, too.

“I don’t hear as much, at 10 or 11 a.m., ‘I’m hungry,’” Kuenzel said. “They’re here and they’re ready to work.”

The program is free to all of West Lenoir’s 180 students – 99 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch.

And even though the program has been credited with better morning attendance, tardy students can still get breakfast in the office – no matter what.

“I like it because all the kids are eating with us,” cafeteria manager Annette St. John said. “I know they’re getting two good meals a day.”

But the first thing everyone notices – with some level of awe – is the silence in the hallways as kids tuck into their breakfasts.

“That first morning I walked down the halls,” Simmons said, “and it was quiet.”