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Feed MA School Kids, Eliminate Stigma: As Easy as CEP

PHOTO: Nearly 900 Commonwealth schools may be eligible for a program that would feed all their students breakfasts and lunches and do away with much of the paperwork and application hassles. An effort is under way to make sure they know about it and act by the end of this month. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture.
PHOTO: Nearly 900 Commonwealth schools may be eligible for a program that would feed all their students breakfasts and lunches and do away with much of the paperwork and application hassles. An effort is under way to make sure they know about it and act by the end of this month. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture.
June 9, 2014

BOSTON – Some 880 high-poverty schools in the Commonwealth may be eligible for a program that would feed all their students breakfasts and lunches, eliminate the stigma that such singled-out students sometimes face and do away with much of the paperwork and application hassles.

The difficulty is making sure all the schools know about it and act on it by the end of this month.

Justine Kahn, director of Food Education and Policy at Project Bread, says among the results of what's known as the Community Eligible Provision (CEP) will be increased participation in classroom breakfasts because all children will qualify and none could be branded or labeled.

"We consider that sort of the gold standard approach to school breakfast because it does eliminate stigma and it ensures that all kids have access to school breakfast," she says.

Kahn and other advocates are reaching out to the eligible schools and districts, hoping to get them to commit to CEP by the end of June in order have the program up and running in the 2014-15 school year.

Kahn says countless studies have shown the benefits of helping feed underprivileged schoolchildren.

"They behave better,” she stresses. “There are fewer trips to the school nurse's office or the school principal's office because they're able to concentrate and they're focusing on their work and not their hungry stomachs.

“And so any program that is going to increase participation in school breakfasts certainly will have an impact on education. "

A new study shows CEP has been a success in six states and the District of Columbia, which were the first to implement it.

Pat Baker, senior policy analyst with Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, says a selling point of CEP for school administrators is a streamlined qualification process.

"It would be terrific if all 880 schools on the state's list actually decided to send in a letter saying, 'We're interested in this, tell us more,'” she says. “Those schools may well find to their surprise that this is going to work for them and it's going to be a heck of a lot easier on their staff to administer."

Interested schools and districts are asked to contact the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Baker has no time for an argument that helping feed schoolchildren is something the government shouldn't be spending money on.

"Well, federal, local, state money is used to educate kids, and if kids are hungry, they're not going to learn,” she points out. “So we're wasting educational dollars trying to teach children who come to school or are in school hungry."

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA