Breakfast and morning games lead students to SBA success

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Joseph Hensley, 14, takes the front of the line during a school-wide tug-of-war competition at Soldotna Middle School Thursday April 3, 2014 in Soldotna, Alaska.

Along with getting their energy up via a tug-of-war tournament on Thursday, Soldotna Middle School students had the option of tackling the final day of statewide Standards Based Assessments testing with a belly full of sausage and scrambled eggs.


Soldotna Middle Principal Sarge Truesdell said the school does about an hour’s worth of games every day before testing to get students’ blood flowing, get any late kids breakfast and make sure any unaccounted for students are called.

He said the first two days the students played goofy games like carrying books on their heads, but found that by the third day students were tired of those kinds of games.

The school had been doing the games for years, but last year, he said, the school created a “March Madness” type of bracket for tug-of-war. The seventh grade homerooms made up of about 16 students each go head-to-head as do the eighth grade classes. Then the seventh grade and eighth grade champions compete for all school bragging rights.

“All of the research that I’ve read on physical fitness with kids and getting oxygen to the brain … we know helps them in the classroom,” he said.

Not only did students get active by participating in tug-of-war, but also in the stands cheering and dancing to music.

Eighth grader Sean Lewis said with the games, testing days are actually better than normal school days.

“(The games) have brought fun to testing,” he said.

Sierra Reid, an eighth grader, said tug-of-war helped her to get pumped up for the math portion of the SBA.

While the school has held games as a way to get its seventh and eighth graders’ energy up and ready for testing for years, the daily breakfast program has only been in play since December.

With help from volunteers and donations, teacher Sheilah-Margaret Pothast began the program after Kenai Peninsula Borough School District homeless liaison Kelly King spoke to the middle school staff about homeless students in the district.

“It doesn’t matter how much food you have in the cupboards or how much money your family has,” Truesdell said. “If you didn’t eat well and you’re hungry, then we can provide that for you before you test. The thought of any kid sitting in and not being able to concentrate on the test because they’re hungry is just a shame.”

Pothast said bringing a breakfast program to Soldotna Middle had been on her mind for a while, but King’s presentation pushed her to make the idea a reality.

“As a teacher there’s times … I hear tummies growl,” she said.

After determining through a survey a sufficient number of students would utilize the program, and receiving generous donations and volunteering individuals, breakfast could be served.

“Anybody who’s hungry is allowed to go,” Truesdell said.

Everyday cold and hot cereal is available as well as yogurt, granola bars and juice. Some days — like Thursday in preparation for the math portion of the SBA — Pothast and her group of volunteers prepare and serve sausage and eggs.

Waffle days are a big hit, Pothast said. Without the grandparents and parents of students, retired school staff and community members who volunteer and donate money and food, the program would not be successful, she said.

Peggy Rogers, who used to work with special needs students at Soldotna Middle, started volunteering in January. She said she enjoys seeing the students and thinks the breakfast program is really important.

When the program first started, the servers saw about 20 students on average in the home economics room. Now they see about 30 to 40 students daily. Thursday, they fed about 60 kids.

“The numbers have grown every month,” Pothast said.

Along with providing breakfast to students, the program has also fostered new friendships, Pothast said, with kids becoming “breakfast buddies.”

“It is a happy place,” Pothast said.


Kaylee Osowski can be reached at