Governor Earl Ray Tomblin officially signed a bill into law Wednesday aimed at helping children do better in the classroom. The Feed to Achieve Act provides free breakfast and lunch to all students around the state.
Tomblin put his signature on the bill in Martinsburg at Berkeley Heights Elementary School.
Tracy Heck is the Director of Childhood Nutrition and Wellness for the Berkeley County School System. She says some students will rely on the program, others not so much, but everyone is included.
“You have a wide range of students in every county. On the continuum, some parents really need some help, all the way up to parents whose kids are fed their Wheaties [at home] every day,” says Heck.
Berkeley County already has a pilot project in place that feeds all children at 6 elementary schools. The Feed to Achieve Act will bring in every school in the state, from pre-K to high school.
With all students across the state getting the free meals, there will no longer be the stigma on children who desperately need the free food but are ashamed to take it because they feel they’ll be singled out.
Heck says those schools participating in the pilot program are already seeing positive changes.
“We see increased participation. We are seeing better attendance. To me that’s the better payoff,” stresses Heck.
The state Department of Education has had several free lunch programs in place in counties around the state. Heck says the proof isn’t in the pudding but rather the classroom.
“There are less tardies, less disciplinary issues and the academics go up,” according to Heck. “Kids are able to pay more attention.”
Feed to Achieve is a public/private partnership, where the community gets involved in financing those free meals through local donations and making the most out of federal funding.