SL school experiences hunger issues
The rules for school lunches say "no seconds," and some students remain hungry while pans of hash browns and scalloped potatoes with ham are left to be thrown away. It is a dilemma that is frustrating leaders at Storm Lake Elementary School.
"In talking to some of my friends who are principals around the country, some schools are starting to opt out of the hot lunch program," because of the regulations, Principal Juli Kwikkel said this week.
While the program features fruit like apples and applesauce, and iceberg lettuce on a fresh food bar, "That doesn't fill them up. They don't get much protein. And you'll be told that it's because they are following the federal regulations."
The students get entree choices, which is fine, but a one-size-fits-all lunch isn't always doing the job, the principal feels. "It just depends on the child, the meal and the day of the week. We have some kids who will throw their food away, and others who lick the plate clean and are still quite hungry."
The fact that the regulations require left-over food to be thrown away instead of fed to hungry students has the principal on the verge of rebellion.
"Monday is always the worst," says Kwikkel. "Often we have kids who haven't eaten much for the weekend. After lunch, they are still going to be hungry."
Asked if she is seeing a lot of this situation: "I am."
The issue with food at home isn't always strictly poverty, she finds - in some cases it comes down to questionable priorities.
"I look at the expensive cars that pick up these kids in some cases. We've made home visits and seen families with a 62-inch TV, all kinds of game consoles, but no furniture and the kids sleeping on a mattress on the floor," Kwikkel said.
Appearances can be deceiving. "The kids coming to school look pretty clean and tidy and taken care of, even if they are hungry. If you go to Marshalltown [a similarly ethnically-diverse community], I don't think the kids look at neat and clean as they do here."
Kwikkel said that at a recent meeting of the Citizens Advisory group for the schools, the gathering discussed how to get parents more engaged in the education process, which officials hope could reshape priorities in some families where there is hunger and other issues that can contribute to less than ideal performance at school.
"You have to practically drag them in" for conferences and other efforts, Kwikkel said of some parents. One father from a minority family replied that he felt some of the parents in the community may be "intimidated" to come to school or talk to teachers and administrators. Although some immigrant families have been in the community for 20 years, the parents may be acutely aware of the academic background or English skills they themselves do not have, she learned.
"We have to let them know that it is okay, that we want all of them to be engaged in their children's education. We want the school and the home to work together," Kwikkel said.