This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia School District has introduced a new breakfast item created by students to be offered in schools throughout the city. The item, called Rebel Crumbles, is a hearty and nutritious breakfast cake packed with fruit and whole grains to give students a healthier food option to make it through the morning.
The cake was made by Rebel Ventures, a student-run business that has partnered with the University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships. The students come from Bartram, Parkway West and Sayre High Schools, and Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus. They are mentored by Jarrett Stein, co-founder and executive director of Rebel Ventures, and Penn students.
“This whole process has taught us about running our own business, making decisions, and taking control of what we eat,” said A’Nya Pollard, a Bartram senior.
“I get excited that we were able to make something that’s healthy, and students like it.”
The story of Rebel Ventures began in 2012, at the now-defunct Pepper Middle School in Southwest Philadelphia, where Stein, a former nutrition teacher, gave his students a project to make the school healthier. Recognizing that many families are plagued by food insecurity – defined as "the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food" – the students decided to make a granola bar that would be sold in the school store.
The bar became popular among students, so when Stein’s group learned that Pepper was closing in 2013, they decided to start a company to continue producing it. They named the company Rebel Ventures to celebrate the spirit of rebellion against social injustice and disenfranchisement.
The Rebel bars, as they were branded, were sold in some District schools, as well as local cafes, bars, and stores.
In August 2015, the District reached out to Rebel Ventures for a partnership that would bring a new breakfast item to school menus. The crew spent nearly a year developing the recipe to ensure that it was tasty and met the District’s nutritional requirements.
The students created more than 50 versions of the cake before finally settling on a recipe that included apples, cranberries, and whole grains. After successful taste tests with elementary students and District administrators, the Rebel crew knew they had a hit.
“A lot of kids liked it, so we stuck with the product,” said Zaire White, a sophomore at Parkway West.
“And the School District liked it, as well, because it met the criteria. We knew the product was good and tasty, but once it met the criteria we thought we had it. We were done.”
Rebel Crumbles are now available at 235 District schools and will be served in schools that have full-service kitchens until the end of the school year.