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Fountaindale Elementary offering free breakfast to all students

March 24, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Students no longer come to class hungry at Fountaindale Elementary School.

The school this year became one of eight in the county to offer free breakfasts to all students.

"The biggest benefit is the kids aren't hungry, and they're learning better and they're getting nutrition," food service supervisor Gary Dodds said of the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs.

According to figures provided by Dodds, about 34.5 percent of students in Washington County Public Schools are eligible for free or reduced-cost meals through the lunch and breakfast programs. Eligibility is based on family income and is determined by application.

In the 2000-2001 school year, only 27.6 percent of Washington County students' families were identified by application as being eligible for the program.

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Students at Fountaindale don't have to apply for free breakfast because the school and seven others in the county have received grants to provide food for all students, Dodds said.

Principal Donna Newcomer said she believes most students would eat before leaving for school, but said if they did not have the option of the free breakfasts, some would be too rushed to have a healthy meal.

"The question is: Would they be eating nutritiously? ... What this does for us is ensure the kids are getting a balanced meal to start the day."

Katherine Fowler, 9, had a bowl of cereal and milk on a Friday morning after announcements.

She said she likes Fountaindale's brown-bag meals, "because it has things that are really good to eat, and it has things that are good for you, and it has things that are really good."

She said "that's the good thing, because a lot of people, a lot of students, don't have time to eat a breakfast at home."

Participation in the program among students who are eligible for the meals has increased. According to Dodds' figures, 43 percent of eligible students ate cafeteria lunches in 2001, compared with 51 percent across the county this year

Breakfast participation numbers also are up, from about 10 percent of eligible children in 2001 to 20 percent this year.

The numbers have brought more money to the schools, including about $1.8 million in anticipated additional revenues from the state next year, school officials have said. That aid is earmarked for counties with higher-than-average levels of poverty, which is measured by the percentage of families on meal plans.

Federal and state reimbursements offset the schools' cost for free and reduced meals.

School officials say the county is not getting poorer - it simply is doing a better job of identifying families' needs. According to Dodds, that's due to an aggressive campaign to market the program's benefits to families and growing sensitivity toward families who participate.

Dodds said the stigma of receiving free and reduced-cost meals has lessened because schools implement the program in ways that allow students to participate without being identified in front of their peers.

Kindergartner Justin Plummer ate a peanut butter-and-jelly pocket as students took off coats and listened to announcements.

"I'm doing great, I'm having fun at school," Plummer said. "The sandwiches are so good, I can't stop. I can't keep my eyes off of them."

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