McKeesport Area schools developing pilot dinner program
McKeesport Area School District and its food-service provider Nutrition Inc. are developing a pilot dinner program to nourish students who participate in after-school activities.
Whether students remain on campus when school is dismissed for sports, extracurricular activities or tutoring, they need fuel for their minds and bodies, school director Terri Kisan explained at the board's open agenda session last week.
Kisan, putting her fourth child through the high school this year, has firsthand knowledge of how sending enough healthy food to school for two meals and a snack is a difficult task each day.
“By the time students finish football practice, they may be dry heaving because they haven't eaten since 10:30 or 11 o'clock,” Kisan said. “We expect them to go a very long time and perform for us, but not give them nourishment to do that. Many of our coaches and teachers who I see in the audience supplement. They take money out of their pockets for the minimal amount — a bag of chips and a Capri Sun — to get them through.”
While booster organizations are doing their best to supplement student meals, they are not intended to serve a complete variety of healthy entrees and side dishes.
Kisan asked the district to step up and fill the dinner gap that occurs when active students stay at school for 10-12 hours each day, because many children aren't getting what they need.
District administrators invited Nutrition Inc. district manager Kelly Patterson to share ideas with board members regarding how a pilot program could be developed in coming weeks, because dinner was not part of the state Department of Education-approved food service plan for 2013-14.
“The concern of students staying after school for the amount of time that they do is one that a lot of districts have,” Patterson said. She described the Child and Adult Food Care program, which is available to districts whose population exceeds 50 percent in free or reduced lunch recipients.
“It will provide dinner or dinner and a snack to every student who attends an organized after-school anything,” she said. “Whether it be tutoring, sports, choir practice, band or musicals, it doesn't matter why they're here.”
Any school building that hosts an organized after-school program is eligible for dinner service. The dinner is free to everyone there, regardless of lunch payment status, because the district qualifies at an at-risk site.
“We are able to cater it to the needs of your district,” Patterson said. “It can be in every one of your buildings. It can be in one of your buildings. It can be five days a week, two days a week ... Whatever is going on, we can provide meals to students.”
School director Trisha Gadson asked Patterson to describe the offered meals.
“It follows very similar to the requirements of the school lunch program,” Patterson said. “The components include milk, fruits, vegetables, grains and protein in very specific age-range portions.”
“The Scoop,” a parent tool published by Nutrition Inc., explains that it's important that children understand all five food groups that are offered daily.
Students must be offered one serving each of meat, grains, and milk; but they must be offered two different servings of fruits and/or vegetables. From these five servings they are offered, they must select at least three different components to make up a complete, reimbursable meal.
Gadson asked if dinners could be packed for students who leave immediately after dismissal to travel with competing teams.
“To Terri's point, they don't get back to our district until sometimes 10:30 at night,” Gadson said. “Is there an opportunity for them to get a bagged meal to take with them?”
Patterson said application would be made to the state to include packaged meals for off-site game days.
“You would have a count of the number of students attending and package up those dinners that would be appropriate to go on the bus with them, much like you would do a field trip lunch,” Patterson said.
The reimbursable pilot dinner program would provide added hours and income for existing cafeteria staff, likely with shifts offered based on seniority to comply with contractual obligations.
The school board authorized Patterson to contact the Department of Education to seek approval for a pilot program in the interim period before a new food service contract is drawn for 2014-15.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.