Bethany J. Royer
PIQUA — Approximately 31.6 million children received a free or reduced lunch each day through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) according to Fiscal Year 2012 numbers. The federal assistance meal program is provided to public and non-profit private schools, with 224 billion lunches served since the program’s inception in 1946.
However, for the millions dependent on the program there comes a great deal of stigma and two contrasting situations highlighted this issue. First by U.S. Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) who felt children in the lunch program should pay a dime or nickel so as to, “instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch. Or maybe have them sweep the floor in the cafeteria.” While a former Colorado charter school principal, Noelle Roni, states she was fired last year for refusing to stamp the hands of children with no lunch money or who were on the federal lunch program, stating it was stigmatizing.
Fortunately, on a local level, Piqua school leaders such as Rick Hanes, superintendent of Piqua City Schools, and Terri Meyer, food service director, who shared the story on the Colorado principal, make sure the stigma of a free or reduced lunch does not interfere with a full belly and in turn academic success.
As of October 2013, according to Meyer, 58 percent of students district-wide utilize the free or reduced lunch school program stating, “That’s about running the norm.” With the district using Direct Certification to aid in the process which provides information from state welfare or food stamp offices directly to the school.
“If we know, based on the state of Ohio, a child is eligible, we can send them a letter,” said Hanes which alleviates many privacy issues for both the student and their family, something that continues even in the lunch line where no distinction on how a meal is being purchased is made. A big difference from previous generations where many knew who was or wasn’t receiving a free or reduced lunch, allowing today’s families to get the benefits without the sometimes debilitating associated stigma.
No more do families have to fill out a form and have their child return it to school, says Meyer, with Internet or fax options available, and the district pulling information from Direct Certification three times a year.
Hanes estimates that through Direct Certification there has been a ten percent increase of students in the lunch program since his entry into the district seven years ago, with Meyer stating the county has seen a general increase, over all.
As emphasized by Meyer, NSLP is, “A very good program and it is there for a reason.” As a full belly aids both student and teacher during the academic process.
“When you are working in an environment of trying to educate, you need full attention,” said Hanes. “So the instruction can be quality and the students can focus on that.”
A child with an empty stomach is not going to be focused on learning.