The federally funded Community Eligibility Provision has been applied to 6 more Aurora schools this year, more to come
Laredo Elementary students have nothing to fear come breakfast and lunchtime this school year.
The Aurora Public Schools district is ensuring that all kids at 10 elementary schools in northern neighborhoods, including Laredo, can eat free meals on campus, and that no one will ask them or their parents to apply to receive that food.
“This is a real win for our kids and families,” said Laredo principal Sandra Fenley. “It helps us ensure that nutrition is being provided to all of our students for breakfast and lunch so that we don’t have to worry about who’s hungry and who’s struggling.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision program was established by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 to offer low-income schools the option to provide all students with free meals with no requirement to fill out qualification forms year after year.
“It’s hard sometimes to get parents to fill out that form for free and reduced lunch. It’s a pride thing,” Fenley said. “You don’t want to say, ‘I can’t afford food.’ So this program is a wonderful way to take down those false comparisons between students. Everyone is the same as everyone else.”
Aurora Public Schools began what it calls the Universal Breakfast and Lunch Program last year at four elementary schools — Boston P-8, Crawford, Kenton and Paris. The percentage of students who met the state-measured eligibility for free or reduced-rate meals at the schools ranged from the high 80s to nearly 96 percent.
Mona Martinez-Brosh, director of nutrition services for Aurora Public Schools, said the program can be extended to any school where at least 63 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. School districts seeking federal money for the meal program must use data from the state Department of Education to check if students’ families are a part of programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, often referred to as SNAP.
Martinez-Brosh said independently verifying a school population’s eligibility removes the discomfort some students and their parents feel when they complete the forms to affirm eligibility of free daily meals.
“What’s really great is that a stigma has been removed,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re paying, free or reduced anymore, we all get our meals for free.”
Almost 83 percent of Laredo Elementary’s students meet the state qualifications to receive free or reduced-price lunches.
This year, five more elementary schools meet those qualifications in Aurora and will also participate in the Universal Breakfast and Lunch Program — Vaughn, Sable, Fulton, Sixth Avenue, and New Legacy.
The Aurora Public School District’s nutrition services department makes and distributes almost 22,000 student lunches a day and about 15,000 breakfasts. The federal eligibility program allows the district to claim the meals that it makes for its 10 Universal Breakfast and Lunch schools for free.
“We make almost everything from scratch, in house, except the bread, which is made at the district bakery,” she said. “We also don’t serve pork at all in this school district because a lot of our students come from a culture that doesn’t eat it. Nothing we buy or anything that we make contains pork. It’s turkey sausage, turkey pepperoni, turkey ham and so on.”
She said the district’s growing participation in the Community Eligibility Provision program is the tip of the iceberg among solutions to feed its students.
“We’re very proud of what we do,” she said. “We’re continually coming up with the best and healthiest ways to meet the needs of all of our students no matter where they live.”
Other schools in the district may be eligible to participate in the program, Martinez-Brosh said, and the district may apply for their inclusion if it can verify eligibility.
Colorado ranks 12th in the nation for participation in the school breakfast program, up from 44th in 2009, said Ellie Agar, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Hunger Free Colorado.
“For those students, the summer may have been a difficult time to find adequate food and nutrition. Many look forward to having regular access to meals and breakfasts at school,” Agar said. “We all know being hungry can zap our focus and energy, which are two things that are essential to being productive in the classroom.”
Still, one out of every five kids in the state doesn’t get enough food at home or at school, according to Agar.