Free Meals for Students

lunchline copy 4Around the NEK - Schools in the Northeast Kingdom are providing free meals to their students. Anyone who has attended school knows of "hot lunches" and the fact that hot lunches cost money; but recently, some schools have changed the hot lunch dynamic of payment.

Some schools have children who cannot afford to pay for hot lunches and would otherwise spend their school days without food to eat, so their school provides just these students with free meals. There are other cases where schools are funded by programs which allow them to provide all of their students with free meals. Some of these school's are the Sutton Village School and the Concord Graded/Middle School. Both systems help children whose families cannot provide them with food, or money to buy food from their school. These programs are essential to the student's education, because we all know learning is hard enough on its own without the distraction of an empty stomach.

There are only a few schools in the Northeast Kingdom that currently supply all of their students with free lunches. They are able to do this under a provision created by the Vermont Agency of Education called the Community Eligibility Provision. It allows for food service programs to provide breakfast and lunches to their students at no cost to the students or their families (initially) through the federally-funded program. Jennifer Botzojorns, the new Superintendent of the Kingdom East School District was happy to discuss her thoughts on the program. "It gives schools the chance to give children an opportunity to receive meals for free or a reduced price if the are eligible and meet the criteria. It is an important program because many of the students who do meet the criteria would not be able to pay the full price for meals."
Of course, there is a price that is paid for by school districts for the service; however, the rates given to the schools are presented on a monthly pay-back basis which makes them very affordable. The school's in the Northeast Kingdom that are that are eligible for the program are as follows... Walden School, Burke Town School, Lyndon Town School, Sutton Village School, Concord and Miller's Run. All schools follow the rules of eligibility of having forty percent or more of their students directly certified for free meals or meals at a reduced price. This does not mean, however, that all the schools are providing free lunches to all of their students, the only school currently providing this service is the Sutton Village School. "If a school reaches a certain threshold of below-poverty percentage," Botzojorns explained, "then every student at the school will receive free meals. While there are multiple school's who are eligible for the program, there are very few who are actually using it to provide free meals to all of our students. The only school in the Kingdom East district is the Sutton Village School, which has a seventy-five percent eligibility rate."
Just like she said, most schools in the Kingdom East School District are eligible for the program since many of the schools are above the percentage requirements. Burke Town School has forty-one percent of students who are eligible for free or reduced meals, Lyndon Town School has fifty-seven percent, Miller's Run has seventy-six percent, and Sutton Village has seventy-five percent.
Upon talking to a few of the principals in our local area, it was interesting to find that schools did not take advantage of the federal program, even though many of the schools liked what the program was doing. Patrick Ham, The Principal of the Miller's Run school district said that while he likes the program, his school did not act before the deadline passed. "Miller's Run is eligible for the Community Eligibility Provision, however we did not respond and get back to the Vermont Board of Education before the deadline passed for this year. The program itself is a great idea that makes breakfast and lunches available to students; and providing free meals to everyone eliminates the stigma surrounding reduced and free meals for the select few who truly need it. Even though we could not make the deadline for this year, we may apply next year as the Kingdom East Unified School District, it would be great if Miller's Run could provide free meals to their students.
After discussing this possibility with Mrs. Botzojorns, She said that she was already working with the Caledonia North Supervisory Union to prepare applications for next year. "A lot of our schools at the Kingdom East School District will be eligible for the program next year. We would like to apply for the program so that any school in our district that can receive funding through the program will be able to feed their students at no cost to them."