Academic success starts before a student even gets to the classroom. Having a nutritious breakfast and lunch each day sets the stage for that student success and that’s why the Ravenna School District serves a free healthy breakfast and lunch daily to all of our students.
Our district’s 25 dedicated food service staff members serve almost 38,000 breakfasts and 48,000 lunches every month and they take pride in preparing our students for success. To help serve those meals, for the past eight years the Ravenna School District has participated in a federal reimbursement program for school meals called the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).
This program allows Ravenna Schools to not only identify students who qualify for free school lunches, but also allows our district to offer free school meals to all students. Instead of collecting individual applications from parents to determine if a student qualifies for a free or reduced-price school meal, the CEP allows the school district to submit the names of all enrolled students into a state database. This is called a direct certification method. Students who are in the database and receive any form of public assistance from the state are automatically qualified for free school meals. If at least 40 percent of students in the school district qualify, the district receives federal reimbursement for all breakfasts and lunches served.
The CEP and the expert purchasing power of the Ravenna City School District Food Service Management team leverage the federal reimbursements to provide free meals for all students every day. However, when the pandemic began in March 2020 and students were sent home to learn remotely, providing breakfast and lunch to them presented new challenges. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the federal reimbursement program, recognized that schools needed more flexibility to provide meals to students during the pandemic. As a result, they provided a number of waivers to increase funding and accommodate new methods for providing healthy meals.
As many of the pandemic restrictions are now being lifted, the USDA is also ending these waivers that were provided to the food service program. For Ravenna Schools, this means a return to the CEP that previously provided free breakfasts and lunches. Students will continue to have access to free nutritious meals every day and parents will not need to complete an application form or fund lunch accounts. Cafeteria staff will streamline service operations, allowing students more time to enjoy their meals and less time in line.
While the meal on a given day won’t always consist of every student’s favorite foods, our parents and grandparents can be confident that our students are getting a healthy, tasty meal each day before that big spelling test or math quiz.
Lori Tontimonia is the director of food services for Ravenna School District.
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Opinion: Ravenna Schools committed to healthy meals for students