Healthy Start to offer free breakfast, lunch

Jun. 20, 2014 @ 05:29 PM

Last month, Durham Public Schools decided that it would provide free breakfast to all students regardless of whether the student qualified for them.

Healthy Start Academy, a public charter school, is taking the free breakfast concept one step further.

School officials announced this week that the school will provide breakfast and lunch at no extra cost to all students in its K-8 school beginning with the 2014-15 school year.

Healthy Start will provide the free meals under the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a school nutrition initiative introduced to the state by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.

The initiative allows school that serve predominantly low-income children to offer free school meals to all students through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.

To determine who’s eligible, the CEP uses information from programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Temporary Assistance Program to Needy families instead of traditional paper applications.

“The academy’s Board of Directors has embraced this initiative in order to ensure that every student receives a nutritious breakfast and lunch each school day,” said Aronda M. Hill, the school’s nutrition administrator. “Research shows that students who eat well learn well.”

Hill said the school will provide free breakfast and lunch to roughly 358 students who are expected to enroll in Healthy Start for the 2014-15 school year.

She said more than 96 percent of the school’s students qualify for free and reduced lunch under the federal guidelines  

Hill said one upside of providing free breakfast and lunch to all students is that it will reduce the paperwork associated with the free and reduced lunch program.

The school, however, must continue to complete traditional paper work showing it complies with federal regulations for free and reduced lunch programs.

“The important thing is that being able to provide every student free breakfast and lunch regardless of household income, we have eliminated the problem of children coming to school hungry because every kid will be able to eat breakfast and lunch,” Hill said.

Jim McCormick, principal of Healthy Start, said he is excited about being able to provide students with breakfast and lunch.

In the Durham Public Schools, 64.8 percent of the 34,180 students — about 22,150 — enrolled are eligible to receive free or reduced lunches, with the vast majority receiving free meals.

DPS officials adopted the free-breakfast program as a way to get around the stigma associated with receiving free or reduced meals at school.

The practice also encourages more students to eat what is widely considered the most important meal of the day.

National data show that school districts with universal free breakfast programs have higher test scores, fewer disciplinary problems and more focused students.

The more meals the school district serves, the more it receives in the form of reimbursements from the state and federal governments.

Twenty-two schools in a DPS pilot program served an additional 64,971 breakfast meals from the start of school through March 3, compared to the same period the previous school year, which netted an additional $7,000 in reimbursement from federal and state governments.

That means providing the additional free breakfasts in the pilot program did not cost the district more money.