Soon, students at eight Polk County elementary schools will be able to swoop a hot breakfast off a cart outside their classroom and eat it at their desks. Now, only students at Alta Vista Elementary School in Haines City have that luxury.
Under a ‘Breakfast in the Classroom’ grant, the school board launched the classroom meals program last fall at the east Polk school as a trial run to see how it would work, explained Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy at the school board meeting Tuesday, March 11.
The program is available in communities that meet federal poverty requirements based on food stamp recipients, and other economic and poverty related criteria, said Susan Ehrhart, the school district’s Nutrition Director.
She explained that Alta Vista had 700 students eligible for free breakfasts, but the cafeteria only seats 132, so “we had to get creative to see that these children get a hot meal in the morning.”
The meals, which consist of a hot entree like mini-pancakes, breakfast sliders, fruit and a drink, are delivered by cart to the hallway outside classrooms, kids grab their meal and take it to their desk to eat, she says. “They have about 15 minutes to eat their breakfast and get ready for classes to start,” she added.
The initial program at Alta Vista was paid for with a $32,929 Walmart grant, LeRoy said, and another $229,459 grant will pay to add Combee Elementary School, Crystal Lake Elementary School, Eastside Elementary School, Griffin Elementary School, Jesse Keen Elementary School, Laurel Elementary School, and Palmetto Elementary School to the list of schools offering the program.
The grant funds will pay for equipment, like mobile carts but doesn’t pick up the additional costs incurred for the extra man-hours required for cafeteria workers to prepare the meals, Ehrhart said. In fact, she said, the district expects to hire additional workers to help with the program.
“We are already running ads for some positions,” she said, but didn’t have a dollar figure for the additional salary costs.
Ehrhart also said there had been and would be training sessions for teachers on how to make the meal service quick and clean.
“We’ll show them how to efficiently get their classrooms back in order so they can begin teaching on time,” she said.
“This is a great program that sees that children will start off their day with a healthy, hot meal that they may not get otherwise,” Ehrhart said.
LeRoy also told the school board that the number of schools with the ‘Breakfast in the Classroom’ program would be further expanded to a total of 15 schools next school year.