LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Students at La Crosse’s Hamilton Elementary School, which is on a 45/15 schedule, started school Tuesday. There are plenty of worries that come with the first day, but affording lunch won’t be one of them.
"It's just a fun day, the first day back,” said Marilyn Volden, a La Crosse school district nutrition specialist.
It's simple math: Kids plus chicken nuggets equals happiness.
"It tastes good,” second grader Miyuki Lor said.
At Hamilton Elementary, it's the first school lunch of the year.
"I like the lunch that they make, because it's really good,” first grader Isaiah Rahman said.
"We're serving mac and cheese and chicken nuggets,” Hamilton assistant nutrition manager Heather Skiles said. “Obviously, that's a fan favorite."
Skiles said she has the best job in the world.
"I love the kids,” she said. “They're what make my day spectacular."
She worries, however, about her school kids being able to afford to eat.
"We hear about it more than you think,” Skiles said. “Children can't focus if their tummies are hungry."
Under the federal Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP, schools where at least 40 percent of students need help paying for food qualify for an assistance program. Those students are identified if they’re participating in programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
At Hamilton, Volden said that's nearly 80 percent of the students.
"There's definitely a need for this program in this area,” she said.
The program, officially beginning at Hamilton this year, allows the school to provide free breakfasts and lunches to all of its 170 students.
"It helps our families and helps them pay for other necessities,” Skiles said.
"The most important thing is it takes away the stigma of classes of students, identifying them as free or paid or reduced price,” Volden said. “Right now, we can treat all the students the same."
Skiles and Volden said taking money out of the equation at lunch time makes the school day easier on everyone.
"They come through with smiles on their face, and we feed them so they're ready to learn through the day,” Skiles said.
The school is still asking that parents with students at Hamilton complete the free and reduced meals application for their children because it affects other funding evaluations. That application can be found on the district's website.
The free breakfasts and lunches are only for Hamilton students, not SOTA I, which is housed in the same building.
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