The West Virginia Department of Education's Universal Free Meals Pilot is celebrating a birthday. It was one year ago that county school systems enrolled in the breakfast and lunch challenge in an effort to provide well-balanced meals prepared from scratch to students across the state.
The West Virginia Department of Education Child Nutrition Office celebrated with a recognition ceremony Monday at the Bridgeport Conference Center. West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple was scheduled to give out awards and serve as the keynote speaker.
Marple has been an outspoken advocate for the importance of child nutrition programs. At the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, she issued a challenge to schools as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Team Nutrition Training Grant to get creative with breakfast and lunch. In addition, the WVDE launched the Universal Free Meals Pilot.
"When children eat a healthy breakfast and lunch, the overall school climate improves," Marple said. "In addition, proper nutrition and consistent meals improves student achievement."
Schools accepted Marple's challenge and took action. Eight counties fully participated in the Universal Free Meals Pilot. Meanwhile, nearly all 55 county schools systems implemented some type of change in policy involving breakfast. Every county that participated saw an increase in the number of students eating breakfast.
"The proof is in the pudding," Marple said. "For example, Elkins Middle School saw a 30-percent decrease in the number of school suspensions after changing its breakfast strategy."
Breakfast strategies included Breakfast-in-the-Classroom, Breakfast-After-First-Period and Grab-and-Go Breakfasts. Another successful strategy was Books-and-Bites. At Watts Elementary School in Kanawha County, children participated in Books-and-Bites, in which children picked up a Grab-and-Go Breakfast when they arrived at school and ate it in the classroom while reading a book.
The following Universal Free Meals Pilot Awards were announced:
Most significant increase in breakfast:
Grade school - Point Pleasant Intermediate School in Mason County
Middle school - Guyan Valley Middle School in Lincoln County
High school - Matewan High School in Mingo County
Most significant consistent participation:
Grade school - Ranger Elementary School in Lincoln County
Pre-K through 8 - Hamlin Pre-K through 8 in Lincoln County
High school - Gilmer High School in Gilmer County
The following Challenge County Awards were announced:
Most significant increase in breakfast participation from the beginning to the end of the school year:
Elementary school - Junior Elementary School in Barbour County
Middle school - South Harrison Middle School in Harrison County
High school - Sherman High School in Boone County
Most significant consistent breakfast participation throughout the entire school year:
Elementary school - Sand Hill Elementary in Marshall County
Elementary/middle school - Rowlesburg in Preston County
Grade school - Ramage Grade School in Boone County
Middle school Summers Middle School in Summers County
High school - Summers County High School in Summers County
More information is available by contacting the West Virginia Department of Education Communication Office at 304-558-2699.