Students at Jackson High School line up Friday to order a custom salad at the school's new salad bar during lunch. JHS students now have six options for lunch each day, which might help boost lunch participation rates at the school. (Staff Photo: Beverly Harvey)
Less than two weeks after the start of the 2013-2014 school year, participation in the school nutrition program in the Butts County School System was showing marked improvement.
That’s good news for school officials who want systemwide participation in breakfast and lunch programs to increase to be able to maintain the Community Eligibility Option, a federal program that allows the system to provide two free meals each school day for every student.
The Butts County School System qualified for the CEO program, part of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, based on the percentage of students certified to receive free meals through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and similar programs.
The CEO program requires at least 40 percent of students be certified to receive free meals, based on the previous school year. The Butts County School System had 48 percent.
The school system needs to increase systemwide participation in the breakfast program by 25 percent and participation in the lunch program by 10 percent above last year’s numbers in order to maintain the federal program, Butts County School System Nutrition Director Nicole James said.
Participation rates are determined by taking the daily average of the number of students who attend school and dividing that by the number of students that are actually served breakfast and lunch.
Since school began Aug. 19, the systemwide participation rate for breakfast has been 45 percent, compared to 37 percent last school year, James said.
So far this year, the systemwide participation rate for lunch has been 88 percent, compared to 80 percent last year, James said.
“It has already gone up 8 percent for each serving period, and that’s really good,” she said.
The average number of meals served systemwide each day in the Butts County School System has also increased, so far, this school year.
There has been an average of 2,049 breakfasts and 3,093 lunches served each day this school year, as compared to a daily average of 1,160 breakfasts and 2,531 lunches provided last school year, James said.
The average number of meals served each day at Jackson High School, alone, has been 800 a day this year, compared to 553 last school year, she said, calling the increase “amazing.”
One reason for the increase in the number of meals served at the high school could be attributed to the school’s new salad bar, which brings to six the total number of meal selections available for lunch each day.
The salad bar itself also gives students a lot of choices, with at least two types of lettuce, meat, dressings and fruit to choose from each day.
“It’s really doing very well. It’s exceeding what we thought it was going to do,” said JHS School Nutrition Manager Ruth Fewell, referring to the salad bar, which had a steady line of students during lunch on Friday.
JHS student Garrett Collins has been in the salad bar line almost every day since school started.
“I usually have it every day,” said Collins, who chooses chicken to top his salad. He said his friends frequently choose the salad bar option for lunch, too. “It’s good. It’s fresh, too,” he said.
The high school had its highest breakfast daily participation, so far this year, with 255 students grabbing a bite to eat before starting their school day, Fewell said.
Fewell plans to unveil a promotion soon to try to boost breakfast participation numbers at the high school.
A “grab and go” breakfast option at Daughtry and Stark elementary schools has helped increase breakfast participation in those schools, James said. Students are able to pick up breakfast in the cafeteria and take it their classroom to eat.
All three elementary schools in the school system have reported an increase in breakfast participation and have maintained an average of 90 percent participation in the lunch programs, James said.
Stark Elementary School reported a 96 percent participation rate for its breakfast program, she said.
“I think it’s really been a successful program, so far,” James said, referring to the CEO, adding that the school system will work to find ways to continue to increase breakfast and lunch participation in schools.
Students who eat breakfast do better in class and have better grades, James said, citing studies conducted on the topic. Eating free meals provided at the schools also saves families time and money, she said.
Butts County School System Superintendent Robert “Buddy” Costley said he has received positive feedback from parents about the CEO program.
“This is really helping their finances at home, and it’s also ensuring more kids are eating healthy and are ready to learn,” Costley said.