Students eating lunch in the cafeteria.

Posted: August 2014 
Indianapolis Public Schools is proud to offer breakfast, lunch and a healthy snack at no cost to its students and families this year.

When the program was proposed last year, the hopes were that offering this program would help IPS families financially, remove barriers to student learning and increase student participation in breakfast and lunch. Now that the program has been implemented, what has been the result? All that and more.

According to Brianna Merrill, who has three students, two 1st graders and a 4th grader, in Stephen Foster School 67, the program is a success because it eliminates stress and saves her family money. The program, made possible by the USDA, also comes at no increase in cost to Indianapolis families and taxpayers.
In the morning, Merrill used to worry she might not have enough to give the kids a good breakfast, but this program “takes that worry out of all parents’ hands,” and she can just focus on getting her kids to school, making her morning and theirs much less hectic. Her kids love the lunches and the healthy snacks they get during the day as well.

Principal Michelle Brittain-Watts at Northwest Community High School has found a similar reaction at her school. “Parents are elated by the program,” she said, and the students are especially responding to the snacks. One 7th grader, Gay Doh Soe, said he liked the apples (they get to try different kinds). Another, Brian Hernandez, liked the pineapples and orange juice. The only problem Principal Brittain-Watts has encountered so far is that when she walks down the halls, students are asking her for ranch dip to go with their carrots. Clearly IPS families, both parents and kids, are reacting well.

What about removing barriers to learning? Jane Cookson, IPS Food Services Director, said that every study that has looked at the matter shows “kids who eat breakfast and lunch, score better on tests,” which boosts their confidence, which in turn helps them continue to do better academically. Deputy Superintendent for Operations Scott Martin noted, “Kids can’t learn when they are hungry, and some families are too proud to ask for help. This removes that barrier.” But it may be 4th grader Quinn Johnson at Stephen Foster, who put it best, “The milk helps your brain get up.”

Debbie Patterson, the cafeteria manager at Stephen Foster, has a different perspective on how the program has helped students’ education. Last year, with about 90% of their students on free and reduced lunch, they had to mark tickets off for each of those kids each day. This year with no tickets to mark off, six to seven minutes are saved each breakfast and lunch. And while that may not sound like much, when you have only 20 minutes to move 600 students through 18 tables, those six or seven minutes mean students move more quickly in and out of the cafeteria and get to their instruction time that much earlier.

Connie Kristelli, cafeteria manager at Northwest, agrees that it’s a much speedier process this year. She also notes that they are feeding more students, up from 740 last year to 760 this year. And though official districtwide first month counts for IPS Food Service won’t be in till the end of August, Jane Cookson says anecdotally they are hearing more students are being fed as well. But beyond the most obvious benefits, IPS schools are also seeing some wonderful side benefits of the program. Principal Tanasha Franklin of Stephen Foster believes the program is “teaching students to be risk takers with food” by allowing them to try blood oranges, hummus, and other foods they might not have been exposed to before. And both Principal Brittain-Watts and Ms. Kristelli at Northwest say that tying the breakfast and lunch program to students’ electronic IDs has had the wonderful effect of making all students more responsible with their IDs. By establishing this connection, the school helped students assume greater responsibility; consequently missing or lost IDs are dramatically down from last year.

IPS is proud to offer the multiple benefits of a cost-free meal program to each student who graces our classrooms!