Letters to the Editor


November 30, 2003

Nutrition in learning is often overlooked

There are many things that contribute to successful learning in the classroom. But something that is often overlooked is the role good nutrition plays in the learning process.

Multiple studies confirm the important link between a good breakfast and lunch and improving student performance in the classroom. Research indicates that students who eat meals at school perform better on standardized tests, attend school at a higher rate, and behave better in classroom settings.

Fortunately, there is a program that can help parents and guardians who may need assistance meeting the nutritional needs of their children. The Meal Benefit Program, formerly called the Free and Reduced Price Meal Program, provides eligible families meal benefits at school. Some students are eligible to receive free meals while others qualify for a reduction in the cost of meals. School meals provide students with high quality, nutritious food at breakfast and lunch.

Since 1946, the National School Lunch Program has provided funds for lunches served to all children with the intent of helping to protect the health of the nation's children. In 1966, additional funds were provided for students from families within certain income categories to allow them to receive free or reduced price meals. It is the goal of the United States Department of Agriculture to carry out the congressional intent that nutritious meals be available to every child regardless of the family's ability to pay.

Income eligibility guidelines for free and reduced price meals are developed by the United States Department of Agriculture. For example, a household of two with a monthly income of $1,869 would be eligible for reduced price meals. A household of four with a monthly income of $2,837 would also be eligible. A household of six with an income of $3,805 or a household of eight with a monthly income of $4,773 would also qualify for benefits.

If you think you may be eligible for free and reduced price meals, the application process is fairly simple. At the beginning of each school year, the Carroll County Public School System provides parents and/or guardians an opportunity to qualify for free or reduced price meals for children. If you don't apply at the beginning of the school year, it's not too late. You can sign up anytime throughout the year. Also, keep in mind that if your financial situation changes during the year, you may become eligible for benefits.

Applications are available in all school offices. The application process assures that eligible students receive free or reduced price meals. The school system recognizes that this form is complicated and that you may have questions. To make this process a little easier, school administrators and volunteers have been trained and are available to assist and answer any questions you may have.

All forms are reviewed by the school administrator; you will receive a letter confirming your eligibility. The process only takes a few days and once you are approved, your child can start receiving benefits immediately.

Please keep in mind that all information, including the names of students who participate, is confidential. Students receiving benefits are placed on a roster with other students who have pre-paid for meals for several weeks or for the entire year. This means that when a child receives breakfast or lunch, it is impossible for other students to determine who is receiving benefits.

In addition to these benefits for children and their families, the state of Maryland provides the school system with additional funding for every child who qualifies for free or reduced price meals. Even if you qualify but choose not to take advantage of the program, the school system still receives funds. These important funds are used to improve programs and services that enhance the quality of your child's education.

One of the best things you can do as a parent is to be involved in all aspects of your child's education. For additional information about the Meal Benefit Program or to request an application, please contact your child's school. You can also contact Eulalia Muschik, supervisor of Food Services, at 410-751-3041 or Pam Ayres, director of Minority Achievement and Intervention Programs, at 410-751-3047.

C. Scott Stone


The writer is vice president of the Board of Education, Carroll County.

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