Fed & focused

Published 8:38 am Tuesday, September 2, 2014

AHOSKIE – A healthy breakfast plus a healthy lunch equals a healthy future.

With the idea that improved child and teen nutrition is an important foundation for a productive and healthy school day, at any age; daily school breakfast and lunch fosters success in the classroom, and also plays a critical role in helping children develop healthy eating habits that will last for a lifetime.

And perhaps healthy classroom study and retention habits will be just as lasting as well.

That’s why last month for the start of the 2014-15 school year Hertford County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Perry announced Hertford County Public Schools’ students will have access to eat breakfast and lunch at no cost.

The initiative is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, passed by the U.S. Congress with bipartisan support to help ensure every American child has access to the nutrition they need to grow into healthy adults.

One goal of the law was to help reduce health risks for America’s children by helping schools across the country produce balanced meals so children have access to healthy foods during the school day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture based the new school meal standards on independent, expert recommendations to ensure kids are being fed healthy food while they are at school.

“Hertford County had a problem with parents not able to pay for breakfasts and lunches for our children,” said Perry. “But if (the school district) was going to cover the costs of those breakfasts and lunches, our Board of Education asked us to find avenues where the state did not pay the costs.”

The superintendent turned it over to the county’s Child Nutrition Director, Helen Eure, who researched and found out the requirements of the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) that was a part of the Act, and that has gone nationwide during the 2014-15 school year.

But there were qualifications.

“The USDA bases some of the eligibility for the CEP on the social-economic level of the applicants,” Perry continues.

“Without the support of the Board of Education we wouldn’t have been able to do what we did,” said Eure. “There was a formula for determining how many meals could be claimed at free reimbursement based on the USDA guidelines.”

Eure reported back to the board that, due to the provision and the USDA’s new reimbursement system, Hertford County Public Schools could be fully reimbursed for expenses related to student meals.

“The USDA’s target level for 100 percent reimbursement was a poverty level of 62.5 percent,” contended Perry. “In Hertford County the poverty level exceeds that, and is actually 64.5 per cent, meaning the county qualified at 100 percent reimbursement versus the targeted level.”

Eure then filled out the application and later the county was approved.

Though there has only been one week of school, both the superintendent and the nutrition director say they have seen a marked jump in meal participation by students.

“I’m seeing at the high school and middle school level that breakfast participation has taken a big jump,” said Eure, and Perry concurred with that assessment.

“Participation is most dramatic at the high school,” Perry said.

From the Board of Education to administrators, to teachers, everyone is hoping for results where it counts for the children.

“This is good for everybody,” said Eure. “It can translate into better test scores, fewer behavior issues, and a lower rate of absenteeism.”

Another, lesser, aspect of the program is reduction of the stigma and stereotype associated with free, reduced meals.

“I think that has held some kids back from eating in our cafeterias,” Eure surmised. “They were afraid of being stereotyped.”

The superintendent hopes this decision will begin to change the current system which links school food with family income.

Prior to the program being instituted, there were quite a few skeptics who wanted to make sure the program was as good as it sounded.

“We want to thank our district for taking this major step to ensure students are fed and focused in school,” Perry asserted. “By focusing on making free and healthy meals available to all Hertford County Public Schools students, regardless of income; the campaign has brought attention to make this an anti-hunger, health and educational priority campaign.

“I’m very pleased with the program,” the superintendent said. “We don’t want any child in the school district to go hungry.”