Clay School Meal Program Working

The enhanced Clay County countywide school meal program is now in its second year and more students are taking advantage of those free meals.

County School Superintendent Ken Tanner says the Community Eligibility Option is open to all students, no matter what their parents’ income level.

"On a typical day, it varies from school to school, we’re seeing probably 80 percent of the kids participate in breakfast and some schools even more than that, Tanner said. “Some schools are up in the 90s."

As for lunch, the rate is about 75 percent. And this year, the school system has added another free meal.

"Students who stay over after school for tutoring, for band practice, choir practice, FFA. They can all participate in afternoon suppers," Tanner said.

The dinner-time meals aren’t always something hot but it is filling, nutritious and enough to tide students over until they return the next day for breakfast.

"It varies from child to child but I know in my heart that in Clay County there are homes that some children are going to [where] they don’t have a supper waiting when they get home,” the superintendent said.

Clay County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state at 10 percent. Tanner says getting three meals at school can mean the difference between a full belly and one that’s empty.

Tanner says last year was a time of trial and error for the free meals program. For example, "Vegetable pizza, the kids really like that. At first we had to modify the way we fixed it. If you just laid the vegetables on top of it, they won’t eat it very well. But if you grind the vegetables, they like it," Tanner said.

There’s been no official survey of students, but Tanner attributes part of a 30 percent reduction in disciplinary problems last year at Clay County High School to the free meal program.

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