Oklahoma City Public Schools just announced free meals for all students, less than a week before class is set to begin.
The Certified Eligibility Program (CEP) is a federally funded grant for school districts serving predominately low-income communities, and it has been proven nationwide to help improve academic performance, simply by making sure each kid gets nutritious meals each day.
OKCPS leaders say they are excited to see students more engaged in the classroom this year, because the kids will now be able to focus on lessons and not hunger.
“No matter what your financial situation, everyone goes through the line,” said Superintendent Aurora Lora. “Everyone gets a free breakfast and lunch. No stress, no bills.”
Serving more than a million meals a month already, district dietitians say they expect to increase participation at mealtime even further, mirroring the success of the first 50 schools involved in a pilot version of the program last year.
“We actually get to get rid of the alternate meals, and get rid of the stigma of rich kid, poor kid,” said registered dietician Jeffrey Tamayo.
Previously, kids without adequate lunch money had the option to eat a sandwich, fruit and milk, or nothing at all. Now, in addition to meals being free, the district will also feature daily menus with a variety of healthy options.
“Our goal is to make it inviting where they made the decision to pick their meal that day,” Tamayo said.
Federal funding means more money in the pockets of not just parents, but also the struggling school district.
The real reward, though, is cultivating the next generation of great minds.
“It makes them a better individual,” said Tamayo, “a more successful student that will position themselves to be a better person in life.”
Students who want a second helping during mealtime will have to pay for it. Extra breakfast will be $2 and extra lunch will be $3. Schools will also have a la carte items available for purchase at each meal.
Right now, the free meal program is just approved for the next four years, but the district says they will work to make sure it continues well into the future.