Free meals offered at 10 Henrico schools

All students at 10 Henrico County public schools will be able to eat two free meals a day throughout the coming school year, thanks to the expansion of a federal program.

Henrico Public Schools officials have broadened the school system’s participation in the Community Eligibility Provision program, which enables schools with a high percentage of low-income students to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students.

The change could save some families $774 or more in food costs during the school year; that amount is what it would cost for a student to purchase a breakfast ($1.50) and a lunch ($2.80) during each of the 180 days of school.

The schools at which free meals will be offered are: Adams Elementary, Fair Oaks Elementary, Glen Lea Elementary, Highland Springs Elementary, Laburnum Elementary, New Bridge Learning Center, Ratcliffe Elementary, Sandston Elementary, The Academy at Virginia Randolph and Wilder Middle.

Four of those schools (Glen Lea, Highland Springs, Laburnum and New Bridge) participated in the program last year, according to HCPS Director of School Nutrition Services Peggy Gordon.

The expansion means that “parents can be assured their students are getting two healthy meals a day,” Gordon said.

The blanket coverage of all students at those schools also eliminates the need for families in need to complete application forms for free or reduced lunches, she said. That process can become an unintentional roadblock at times for families with language barriers whose students would qualify but whose parents are hesitant or unable to complete the application forms. It also created time-consuming paperwork for school administrators, who now will be free to spend that time in other ways.

And since all students at the 10 schools now can receive free meals, “the stigma attached to students receiving free and reduced meals is eliminated,” Gordon said.

Students who take advantage of the free meals may purchase additional items a la carte if they wish, Gordon said. Students are still free to bring their meals from home, too.

A school’s eligibility for the CEP is based upon the number of its students who participate in at least one other federally subsidized program, such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), Gordon said. But determining eligibility is not an exact science, Gordon said, which perhaps is why not all eligible schools in the state participate.

Henrico expects to be reimbursed for 97 percent of the cost of the meals it provides to students at the 10 schools, Gordon said. Those schools will continue to offer the same breakfast and lunch menus as other Henrico schools, she said. The school system receives its reimbursement funds on a monthly basis, Gordon said.

At the four Henrico schools that participated in the CEP during the 2016-17 school year, the number of breakfasts served increased by 10 percent from the previous year, while the number of lunches served increased by 20 percent, Gordon said. (The national average was about 13 percent for each meal.)

In total, 341 Virginia schools in 47 school districts will participate in the CEP during the coming school year – a participation increase of nearly 300 percent since the program’s inception in Virginia during the 2014-15 school year.

Henrico opted to start with its four schools last year that demonstrated the greatest need for the program, Gordon said. This year, in addition to adding six more schools to the program, it considered several others as well, she said, but its overall reimbursement rate would have decreased.

Henrico officials will study the possibility of adding more schools again next year, Gordon said.

“The successful expansion of the Community Eligibility Provision and other federal nutrition programs prove that Virginia schools are seeing the connection between school meals and student success,” said Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Staples. “When schools adopt CEP, they are able to ease administrative burdens and focus instead on the work of teaching and feeding their students.”

The state’s participation in CEP and several other programs designed to combat student hunger falls under the umbrella of No Kid Hungry Virginia, a public-private partnership between First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia Department of Education and corporate sponsors. Those groups created the partnership in 2011 seeking to connect available funds from federal nutrition programs to hungry students.
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CancerLINC volunteer attorney Thomas Jamerson will present Estate Planning 101 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Sandston Library. Estate planning even on a basic level requires careful consideration and forethought. Jamerson will discuss tips and tricks to estate planning. For details, call 501-1990 or visit http://www.henricolibrary.org. Full text

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