Change to federal program means free meals for all students in Shelby County Schools

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
Kids eating lunch at Aspire Hanley Elementary, a charter school in the Orange Mound of Memphis.

All of Shelby County’s students will be able to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner for free next school year due to a change in the federal school lunch program, Shelby County School administrators told board members Tuesday.

Before, each individual student’s family had to apply and confirm that it earned below a certain income in order to be “eligible” to receive a free or reduced-price lunch subsidized by the federal government. Students received free breakfasts through the district.

But this coming fall, the federal Department of Agriculture plans to roll out out a new “community eligibility” category for schools and districts with high percentages of students living in povertyIf more than 40 percent of students in a given district, group of schools, or school are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, that entity is eligible to receive subsidies for lunches eaten by any student in the school. Individuals will no longer need to apply for the program. Shelby County Schools fits that criteria and plans to provide up to three free meals a day to students.

The change to the federal school lunch program was part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Schools Act, which was passed in 2010. The program has been rolled out in ten states and the District of Columbia since 2010. All states, including Tennessee, are eligible next school year.

The primary goal is to reduce hunger among the district’s students. But the change should also reduce wait times in school lunch lines and reduce administrative costs at the district level: Some 20 central office personnel were responsible for sorting out free and reduced-price lunch-related paperwork, according to Anthony Geraci, the head of the nutrition department, and Frank Cook, the director of nutrition finance.

Geraci said the new program should also help reduce the stigma felt by some students who received the free or reduced-price lunches, and should allow for more efficient check-out procedures at the school level.

Counterintuitively, Geraci said, the district made more money from “free” lunches than from lunches students paid for, due to federal subsidies. He said the district should see at least $4.3 million in revenues, and that local families should save close to $2 million.

The change may complicate how the district distributes some funds and how it calculates and reports other pieces of data. The percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch has often been used to measure the needs of a school’s student body.

Geraci said that while the district’s overall funding won’t change, allocations to individual schools will, as well as “how we report academic performance based on economic disadvantage.” He said the change to the lunch program will also affect how the district calculates its e-rate – which helps schools get lower prices on telecommunications fees – and other fee waivers. (This Education Week article lays out the change in policy, and this one describes the way that policy will affect things like the e-rate.)

Geraci said students will see new menus next year as well. And, starting next year, much of the district’s food will have been grown by Shelby County students, he said.

Schools in the state-run Achievement School District and charter schools that contract with the district will also undergo the changes in lunch policy, district officials said.

The board will decide whether the district will participate in the program at its next meeting.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.