LEWISTOWN - Forty-six percent of children within the Mifflin County School District are eligible for free or reduced price lunches, yet that number is expected to grow with the coming school year, one school district employee states.
Melanie Hill, Mifflin County School District food service supervisor, said free and reduced price lunches are offered under the National School Lunch Program. Every year the Mifflin County School District applies to be a sponsor in the program. Once the district is accepted as a sponsor, all schools that fall under the district automatically are in the program, and therefore provide free and reduced price lunches to eligible students, Hill explained.
There are 14 schools within the Mifflin County school district.
Sentinel graphic by BUFFIE BOYER
Free and reduced price lunches are offered under the National School Lunch Program. To qualify for reimbursement, NSLP sponsors must meet certain requirements depending on the menu option they have selected for their school. There are specific minimum requirements in four food components that consist of five food items. They are: breads/grains, fruit/vegetable, meat/meat alternate and fluid milk. The serving sizes vary depending on the age of the students. Reimbursement rates are established annually by the United States Department of Agriculture.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Web site, the NSLP is a federal and state reimbursement program for each meal served that meets federal requirements. Reimbursement rates are established annually by the United States Department of Agriculture. Any public school, intermediate unit, charter school, area vocational technical or career technology school, public residential child care institution and tax exempt non-public school or residential child care institution may apply to be a sponsor.
The guidelines for children's qualifications change yearly, although not significantly, Hill said. Students fill out eligibility forms at school each year to see which programs they qualify for. Besides the NSLP, students also may participate in the School Breakfast Program, which the Mifflin County School District also is a sponsor of, Hill said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education then processes the students' forms and sends a letter home to the student's family to inform them of what program or programs their child qualifies for. Only one application is necessary per household, Hill said.
From the 2007-2008 school year to this past school year, Hill said the percent of children eligible for free and reduced price lunches within Mifflin County schools has risen from 44.2 percent to 46.2 percent.
Hill said she predicts that with this coming school year, more children will be eligible for those services, due to the economy. It's not an issue for the school system to accommodate more children under the program, Hill said. She added the issue is making sure people are aware of the programs offered and what they qualify for.
"We're ready to take all that we have to," Hill said.
The free and reduced price lunch program is important, she noted because meals help children focus in school.
"It helps with behavior," Hill said.
She added that eating meals in school saves students trips to the nurse's office, because students often visit the school nurse as a result of not getting proper food and nutrition elsewhere.
Leah Harris, assistant press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said the program is important because nutritious meals are exclusively tied to academic success in school.
Children who eat nutritious meals are more well behaved and have less health problems, she said. When students are malnourished they end up in the nurse's office more frequently for a wide array of health issues, Harris said.
Also, when students are fed properly, they are able to focus better in the classroom, she said. Students that are hungry have stomach cramps or are light-headed so instead of focusing on academics, they are focusing on their hunger, she said.
Harris said that all of these points illustrate how essential the program is.
"All across the state there's a unique need to provide this program to students," she said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education's Web site states that 29 percent of students in Juniata County currently are eligible for free and reduced price lunch.
A data report on the site affirms that the total enrollment of students in Juniata County schools in October 2001 was 3,178. Of those, 516 were eligible for free lunches and 336 were eligible for reduced price lunches.
In Mifflin County schools in October 2001, 6,176 students were enrolled. Of those, 1,364 were eligible for free lunches and 559 were eligible for reduced price lunches.
The total enrollment of students in Juniata County schools in October 2005 was 3,109. Of those, 544 were eligible for free lunches and 350 were eligible for reduced price lunches, according to the report.
Mifflin County schools enrolled 5,931 students in October 2005, and out of those, 1,646 were eligible for free lunches and 686 were eligible for reduced price lunches, the report states.
Just last year, the total enrollment of students in Juniata County during October was 3,097. Of those, 691 were eligible for free lunches and 346 were eligible for reduced price lunches. In Mifflin County, the number of students enrolled that year was 5,653. Of those, 1,716 were eligible for free lunches and 601 were eligible for reduced price lunches, the report indicates.
Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level, children in families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and children in families receiving food stamp benefits are eligible for free lunches. Children in families whose income is between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced price lunches, according to the site.
For more information, visit the Web site at www.pa.gov/portal/server.pt/community/pa_gov/2966.