One month in: free meal program in school corporation is a big success

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Just a month into the new school year, the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program that the Switzerland County School Corporation is participating in — where all students in kindergarten through eighth grade have access to free breakfast and lunch — has been a huge success.

  School superintendent Rod Hite said that the three buildings that are eligible for the program: Jefferson-Craig Elementary, Switzerland County Elementary, and Switzerland County Middle School, have all seen sharp rises in the number of meals, breakfast and lunch, that are being served as compared to a year ago.

  • At Jefferson-Craig:

  — In 2018 in the month of August, the Jeff-Craig cafeteria staff served 1,922 breakfast meals. This year, in the month of August: 3,001 breakfasts were served.

  As for lunch: last year during August 3,973 lunches were served at Jeff-Craig; and this year that number has risen to 5,653.

  • At Switzerland County Elementary:

  — In 2018 in the month of August, the SCES cafeteria staff served 4,000 breakfast meals. This year, in the month of August: 5,599 breakfasts were served.

  As for lunch: last year during August 5,382 lunches were served at Switzerland County Elementary; and this year that number has risen to 6,728.

  • At Switzerland County Middle School:

  — In 2018 in the month of August, the middle school cafeteria staff served 297 breakfast meals. This year, in the month of August: 1,161 breakfasts were served.

  As for lunch: last year during August 1,791 lunches were served at the middle school; and this year that number has risen to 3,424.

    Hite said that this year Jefferson-Craig has approximately 375 students in its building; Switzerland County Elementary School has 452 students; and Switzerland County Middle School has 230 students.

   Adding to the evidence that the program is working in the three buildings where it is implemented are the figures that come for August from Switzerland County High School — the only building in the corporation that is not part of the CEP program.

  Hite said that in August of last year there were 4,069 lunches served at the high school; while the breakfast count was 1,309. This year, there were 3,931 lunches served and 1,112 breakfasts served — so the numbers at the high school have gone down during that same period.

  “We’ve gone from serving less than 50-percent of our kids lunch, on average for the year last year, to right now we’re serving about 84-percent of our kids lunch everyday,” Hite said. “Obviously, we’re also serving over 30-percent — up to 70-percent in some buildings — breakfast every morning.”

  And Hite believes that increase in meals served will have more than just a physical benefit for the students eating them.

  “Obviously there’s a benefit for parents and home, and the convenience of kids not having to pack their lunch,” he said. “But in addition to that, the thing I’m most proud of is the fact that we know what kids having the ability to have a good meal at least twice a day can do for them in the academic setting. I hope that this program only improves as the year goes on.”

  The CEP program is a federally-funded program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is the first year of the program here, which originally is set at a four-year schedule

  “It’s a four year minimum,” Hite said. “But as I say that, we have the option to opt out after one year if our numbers are not very successful and what it’s costing the school in terms of money to run the program. If our numbers stay where they’re at currently, we’ll be in the program a minimum of four years. There is some talk on the federal level of re-aligning that budget, but they would support the program through the initial term that they committed to. Each year we’ll update our numbers in the Spring, for the number of students who are eligible for the CEP program. You have to be at at least 40-percent as a district or as a building to remain with the program; so there can be extensions if it’s funded at the federal level and we can continue to meet the minimum requirements.”

  As much as the administrative team here hoped that the program would be a success, Hite says that so far it has exceeded those expectations.

  “I think that all three principals have worked on making sure that all students have access to breakfast in the morning, which has made a big change,” Hite said. “They made some slight scheduling changes to make sure that students are available to go through the line, which I think has helped; but I also think that just the factor that parents don’t have to fix lunch or breakfast and send it with their kids.”

  And Hite understands how this program is impacting families in the community who may be struggling economically.

  “For some of those kids, having that meal available at their fingertips everyday is something worthwhile for them to get up and go through the line,” he said.

   As the program is a big success, Hite says that much of the credit goes to Director of Food Service Gayla Bullock and all of the members of the cafeteria staffs.

  “My hat’s off to the cafeteria staff,” the superintendent said. “Obviously it’s a lot for them to see them double their numbers, and they’re like champions. They’re all over it. They’ve done a fantastic job with it. They need a big shout out for all they’ve done. Everyone from the server on the line to the point of sale contact that’s ringing them up, because they still have to enter each one as they go through the line. They’ve all seen an increase in volume, from meal preparation on up, they’ve done a great job across the board.”