Morning and midday meals for all Ballard County Schools students will be free in 2014-15, under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision, according to Ballard Food Service Director Amber Hayes.
Schools are eligible to participate the CEP if at least 40 percent of their students are eligible to receive free meals through direct certification the prior year. (Directly certified students include those receiving benefits under SNAP or KTAP, or are considered migrant, homeless or foster.)
“This is the first year the middle and high schools have reached over 40 percent,” Hayes said, “and that’s just barely, at 40.11 percent.” Students eligible for free lunches at the preschool are 55 percent, and 51.35 percent at the elementary.
The change will mean that families will see a savings of up to $430 per year per middle- and high-school student, Hayes said. (The figure is based on full student prices for breakfast and lunch each day of the school year.)
The USDA’s formula for reimbursing the meals is complicated, but the Hayes said the bottom line is this: For the program to be successful and continue at BCMS/BMHS, more students have to eat breakfast every day, and every family needs to complete the Household Income Form that will be included in each student’s Code of Behavioral Expectations this year.
“Our lunch numbers are okay,” Hayes explained. “But in the middle and high schools, only about 35 percent of our students eat breakfast every day. To make this work, I’d like to see that number up to about 75 percent.”
To that end, she’s going to try a new program at elementary, middle and high school this year – “grab and go” breakfasts. “The lines will be shorter, and menus will be simplified, but they’ll still get a hot, balanced meal,” she said.
Students will be able to enter their building and get a breakfast similar to what they might find at any counter-service or fast-food restaurant. The menu will vary, but will feature items like chicken biscuits, whole-grain breakfast pastries, mini cinnamon rolls, pancakes, breakfast burritos and cereal bars. Milk, juice and fresh fruits also will be available.
Hayes said they’ll take their meals to areas other than the cafeteria – gyms, classrooms, etc. – and be able to enjoy socializing with their friends.
In addition to the fiscal savings, parents should be able to have a little more relaxed time in the mornings, too, she said. “We want every child to have time to eat breakfast,” she said. “As long as they’re here 10 or 15 minutes before the first bell, they’ll have that time. Parents will know that there’s a hot breakfast waiting for them when they get to school.”
Every family is strongly encouraged to complete the Household Income Form that will be found in this year’s Code of Behavioral Expectations, whether they expect to qualify for free or reduced-price meals or not. “That form is equally important as the contact form that families complete to make sure the school can reach them in case of an emergency,” Hayes said. The information from that form also is used to calculate state and federal funding for numerous programs like SEEK, E-Rate and Title I – money that has a direct bearing on every child in the district.
The free-meal program extends only to students, and only for regular meals and drinks. Any a la carte or extra items will have to be paid through their existing lunch accounts. All adult breakfasts are $1; adult lunches are $2.50.
For more information on the program, contact Hayes at 270-665-8400, ext. 2530, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information provided by Julie Thomas, Ballard County Schools.