East Allegheny serves up meals for students in extracurricular activities
This week, students in East Allegheny School District got a taste of what could become a regular service in 2013-14.
On Monday and Tuesday the district and Nutrition Group rolled out a free dinner in the high school cafeteria for all kids from prekindergarten through 12th grade who are involved in after-school activities.
It is part of a trend for districts that offer federally funded free breakfast. Penn Hills and McKeesport Area also do it.
“We have to qualify for 60 percent or more free on the breakfast,” East Allegheny food service director Trish Puharic said.
From 2:30-3:30 p.m. East Allegheny students came for sandwiches, pizza, burgers, chicken, salads, fresh fruit, veggies and soups.
“And nice lunch ladies,” Linda Hallick said.
“Two of us,” added fellow cafeteria worker Paulette Bacco.
The program drew approximately 40 youngsters on Monday and 70 on Tuesday.
“It's convenient,” said sophomore Maria Sanchez.
“It's good for being free,” freshman Annie Eichler said. “It's nice when I have activities after school.”
On Wednesday, East Allegheny business manager Toni Valicenti said the program is being put on hold so “the bugs can be worked out.”
“We're still working on a reimbursement method from the state,” Puharic said.
“It was just going to be a pilot in the second half of the school year,” Valicenti said. Another test is planned “for a month or so, maybe in May.”
When it does reopen, it will be for kids in regularly-scheduled, organized and structured activities conducted in a supervised environment — and not just in East Allegheny.
“We're required to be an open site, so we are open to other districts,” Puharic said.
A lot goes on after school at East Allegheny High. This week there was tutoring, spring musical rehearsals and warm-ups for the track team.
“This is conditioning for both the girls and boys,” said head track coach Edward Farrell.
Some ate first.
“It's great, I love it,” senior Jaison Fulton said.
“The food's good, better than lunch,” senior Brendon Henshaw said.
In McKeesport Area, hot after-school meals have been a success in 2012-13.
For several years, the district offered after-school snacks for students enrolled in the COOL Schools and Y-I-STA programs at the high school and the Y-U-STA program at Founders Hall Middle School.
“This is the first year we've done a hot meal, and it's been well received,” COOL Schools faculty sponsor Tom Bauman said. “Our teachers are doing the final preparations, and they are in the cafeteria serving students at 3:30.”
Through Nutrition Group, meal options were expanded to give students something more substantial, something comparable to lunches served daily in the cafeteria. Kids often choose from a menu including burgers, corn dogs or chicken strips.
“We're asking kids to stay after school and take part in our programs,” Bauman said. “After school is the time of day when teenagers really start to get hungry. We want them to be fed so they can focus and participate.”
Some students participate in after-school programming and athletics, making the need for a filling meal even more vital, Bauman said.
Some districts don't see a need for it. Norwin director of food and nutrition services Rod Stewart said there's not a demand for it in his district.
“The YMCA does offer an after-school program at South Allegheny Elementary School for students in grades 2 through 6,” South Allegheny spokeswoman Laura Thomson said. “Students enrolled in this program receive a hot dinner every evening.”
Clairton City School District spokesperson Alexis Trubiani said students in the federally-funded CASTLE program get a snack at the end of the school day and a dinner around 5-5:30 p.m.
CASTLE or “Clairton's After-School Teaching and Learning Experience” is a Consortium for Public Education pilot program for grades 5-8 Monday through Thursday from 2:45-5:45 p.m.
West Mifflin Area elementary schools offer snacks such as juice and crackers to youngsters participating in the Starfish tutoring program.
Staff writers Stacy Lee and Eric Slagle contributed to this story. Patrick Cloonan and Jennifer R. Vertullo are staff writers for Trib Total Media. They can be reached at 412-664-9161, Cloonan at ext. 1967 or email@example.com, Vertullo at ext. 1956 or firstname.lastname@example.org.