By Polly Keary, Editor
Participation in the free summer lunch program at Frank Wagner Elementary was up dramatically this summer, according to staff.
“What I heard from the staff is that they were averaging 100 lunches a day,” said school board member Nancy Truitt Pierce. That’s up from 50 or 60 in the past.”
Thanks to a federal grant awarded because of the rate of children at Frank Wagner who qualify for free and reduced price lunches, the kitchen there prepares hot lunches free on weekdays throughout the summer to anyone 18 and under who wants one.
But the community has enlarged on the program, said Pierce.
“The thing I’m excited about is the way the community has rallied around the program to provide additional activities,” said Pierce.
Each day at lunch, someone came in and offered a free activity for kids, as well.
Linda Cline, a Master Gardener, showed kids how to plant a plant and make a birdfeeder.
“One thing I thought was great was the police department did a CSI demonstration and the Fire Department showed up, and the senior center,” said Pierce.
Those activities achieve two important things, she believes.
They attracted more kids to school for a nutritious lunch, she said.
But they also help kids get valuable experiences.
Though it is well known that kids from lower income families have poorer educational outcomes on the whole, the reasons for that disparity aren’t entirely clear. One reason, said Pierce, is that lower income kids just don’t get to do as much stuff as their more financially comfortable counterparts.
“We have found through research that it’s about experience; that the real gap is the experience gap,” she said. “If kids don’t have enough experiences before they come to school, they don’t have a framework on which to put the learning.”
On top of that, two teachers volunteered to come in and do a reading camp for kids who needed some help. Third grade students got camp before lunch and fourth grade after, and there were about 20-25 kids a day at those.
That will give the children a bit of an advantage this fall; studies show that kids can lose as much as a third of what they learned the previous year over the summer if they don’t practice.
The combination of a good healthy meal, fun activities and educational help for some kids has made it so that some of the district’s statistically most challenged students have gotten significant support, said Pierce.
“I don’t even want one child left behind, but the school needs the community, and this is the community rallying around the kids who need the most support,” said Pierce.