Elementary school meal program shows early success

Since CEP began, lunch participation numbers across the county have grown by more than 12 percent. Pictured are students at Marion Elementary in the lunch line.

McDowell County Schools Child Nutrition is seeing an increase in breakfast and lunch participation at elementary schools across the district.

Director of Child Nutrition Jon Haynes attributes the growth to the district’s participation in the Community Eligibility Program (CEP), which is a federally-funded program that provides free breakfast and lunch to students.

Earlier in the year, the McDowell County Board of Education voted in favor of being part of CEP at the elementary level during the 2014-15 school year with the option of expanding to both middle schools and the high school if the program proved to be successful.

Numbers from the first week of school are showing that student meal participation is up.

“Our lunch participation through CEP has increased for elementary students by 12.44 percent,” said Haynes. “Across the board at breakfast we’ve seen a growth of 51.67 percent.”

Those increases are more than the 6 percent increase in lunch participation and 21 percent increase in breakfast participation that Haynes told the board were needed for CEP reimbursements to be more beneficial to the district than traditional free and reduced lunch reimbursements.

Haynes is hopeful that growth will continue at elementary schools.

“If we can continue to show this kind of growth, not only will CEP be a success for McDowell County, but it would certainly be a viable option for middle schools and the high school,” said Haynes. “Ultimately, the board would need to make that decision. I want it to be an easy decision for the board to move forward on our middle schools and high school.”

Along with CEP, Haynes also attributes the tremendous growth in breakfast participation to the new breakfast-in-the-classroom program.

“I can’t thank the principals, child nutrition workers and teachers who have helped make breakfast in the classroom successful enough,” said Haynes. “It takes a whole team working together for breakfast in the classroom to be a success.”

Haynes is happy with the program’s results so far and stated that child nutrition is currently working on strategies to raise breakfast participation numbers at both middle schools and the high school.

“At child nutrition, we want our students to be fed and start their morning and learn,” said Haynes. “A lot of our students simply do not eat breakfast, but with CEP that’s changing at the elementary level. We hope to have other strategies in place soon that will encourage our older students to take part in breakfast.”