In Dec. 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which provides federal funds for an after-school dinner program in schools where at least half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Kansas City (Mo.) Public Schools serves a population of 16,000 students, and 84 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.
Ellen Cram, who became the district’s director of school nutrition in 2010, recognized the need for a third meal at school after the district changed the bell schedule for the 2010-2011 school year. Elementary students were going to school at 7:30 a.m., and some kids would eat lunch at 10 a.m. and not get home until after 6 p.m. if they participate in after-school activities.
The Supper Program Is Born
The district was eligible for a supper program for students enrolled in organized after-school activities. Harvesters, a community food bank, had been providing a light cold snack to students in after-school programs at seven elementary schools, but Cram wanted to provide a more substantial meal in more elementary schools. She worked with Harvesters to figure out the logistics of the after-school supper program, including preparing and transporting the food. In January, the program expanded to 18 elementary schools, and Cram hopes to serve all 24 elementary schools by the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture pays for 100 percent of the supper program.
Students receive a meal consisting of a chef salad or turkey and cheese sandwich along with a fresh fruit or vegetable and milk. “We chose to go with a cold meal because of ease in transport and food safety,” says Cram. The meals are prepared at the high school and delivered to the elementary schools daily.
Although there are no out-of-pocket costs to KCPS, CFO Allan Tunis says there are definitely indirect costs, such as Cram’s time, her staff’s time, and the use of school facilities. It took between three to six months to set up the program and train the staff. “News spread fast, and other campuses wanted to participate in the supper program. We doubled the number of students we served in 90 days,” Cram says.
Cram identifies three reasons why the district started the program: “Children need the extra nourishment, it provides more labor hours for child nutrition staff, and if you operate this program efficiently, you can make a couple pennies to reinvest into equipment for child nutrition.”
Feeding Kids’ Minds
Although the district doesn’t have any statistics to show a change in student behavior or academic achievement, Cram knows that the supper program is helping families. “We are meeting a need and bridging a gap for parents. The meal helps the kids settle down, and they are appreciative,” says Cram.
Superintendent Stephen Green agrees that this program is helping families. “The program provides students with meals that energize them during the early evening, enabling them to complete their homework or to simply not worry about being hungry.” Cram also started a summer meal program in which any student under 18 can come to specified district campuses for breakfast and lunch.
Ellen Cram, Director of Child Nutrition at Kansas City (Kan.) Public Schools
- Age: 56
- Tenure: 2 years
- Salary: $84,000
- Schools: 32
- Students: 16,000
- Staff: 2,100
- Students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches: 84%
- Dropout rate: 16.6%
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Courtney Williams is products editor.