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“CEO” Stands for Better Nutrition in Boston Schools

It's easier for low-income children in high-poverty Boston public schools to get free meals this year. The program hopes to remove the stigma sometimes attached to students who are fed free breakfasts and lunches. Photo courtesy FRAC.
It's easier for low-income children in high-poverty Boston public schools to get free meals this year. The program hopes to remove the stigma sometimes attached to students who are fed free breakfasts and lunches. Photo courtesy FRAC.
October 1, 2013

Boston, MA - The term "CEO" has a new meaning in Boston Public Schools. It stands for the community eligibility option that makes it easier for children in high-poverty Boston schools to receive free meals. Just rolled out in the city this fall, CEO allows a school made up mostly of low-income children to offer breakfast and lunch to all students in the school at no charge.

As director of Food and Nutrition Services, Michael Peck worked to bring CEO to Boston Public Schools, and says it's a hit so far.

"We've had lines going, literally, out of the building with kids," says Peck. "You know, it creates a new problem, but it's a good problem."

A new report shows that, in other states where school districts first implemented the option two years ago, there has been a striking increase in the number of students eating school breakfast and lunch.

CEO eliminates a lot of paperwork and having to calculate which students pay how much for meals. And, since all the kids in a CEO free-lunch school are eligible, none suffers any stigma or perception of neediness. That's one of the features he likes best about the program, adds Peck.

"The stigmatization that goes around a student either attending a free-lunch school or applying for free meals and being eligible - all of that drops out of the picture."

Social justice advocate Georgia Katsoulomitis, executive director of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, hopes the rest of the state's school districts take notice.

"We're very delighted by the developments in Boston. So, we hope it goes throughout the state, because I think it will be really important," Katsoulomitis says.

Madeleine Levin, report co-author and senior policy analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), says CEO also frees up school food service workers to focus on serving healthier meals instead of collecting applications and lunch money.

"Schools are able to operate more efficiently," Levin explains. "The resources that they used to spend collecting applications and school meal fees are put into more productive tasks."

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities collaborated with FRAC on the report, which can be viewed on FRAC's website.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA