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"Hunger-Free" Option Receives School Kudos

PHOTO: Maryland schools in high-poverty areas are taking part in a new program that allows them to serve no-charge, nutritious breakfast and lunch to all students. Administrators report the program is running smoothly. Photo courtesy of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
PHOTO: Maryland schools in high-poverty areas are taking part in a new program that allows them to serve no-charge, nutritious breakfast and lunch to all students. Administrators report the program is running smoothly. Photo courtesy of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
October 7, 2014

SALISBURY, Md. - A new program offering breakfast and lunch in school at no charge is now in place for all public schools in Somerset County on the Eastern Shore, and in about a dozen schools in Washington County in the western portion of the state.

According to the federal Community Eligibility Provision, if schools are located in high-poverty areas, most of the students already qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. With the provision already in place for Somerset County, the county Board of Education opted to "ditch the paperwork" and offer meals to all students.

Somerset County Schools Superintendent Dr. John Gaddis says the program is working better than he thought it would.

"Being the poorest district in the state, we knew there was not only a need for our school children but also we knew this program would have an impact in our community by saving money for parents," he says.

Gaddis notes the biggest difference has been in high schools, where a stigma is often attached to receiving free meals. Since every student now receives meals at no charge, the stigma is gone and more students are eating healthy foods - which he says has a direct connection to student achievement and behavior.

Pam Christoffel with the Washington County Hunger Group says the program brings relief to families facing economic struggles.

"The truth is, the neighborhoods where these schools are located are clearly schools where there are a lot of students in need," she says. "Every child in these schools gets free breakfast and lunch."

Michael J. Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, is encouraged to hear about the success in implementing the program in all Somerset County public schools - and there are hundreds of other eligible schools in the state.

"That's really good news, and we're really proud of what they're doing in Washington County where there are about a dozen schools that are using it," says Wilson. "We're hopeful it's going to be taken up by other places throughout the state over the course of the next year or so."

Wilson adds the program not only reduces childhood hunger, but administrators appreciate the reduction in paperwork.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD