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School breakfast program concerns parent

A local parent has concerns about a breakfast program in public schools.
Anthony Bourda presented a plastic bag with an apple preserves-filled-breadstick, a small juice box and a yogurt cup.
Bourda said he had just dropped his high schoolers off at Franklin Senior High School and saw the breakfast offerings being apportioned by bag to individual students as they filed into the school.
He added that the “lady” handing out the plastic bag breakfasts was keeping track on a clicker and didn’t seem to let any student pass without being handed a bag, whether they wanted it or not, as some arriving students reportedly voiced not wanting to take the bag but were made to take it anyway, as the clicker was pressed.
Bourda said he volunteers at the Franklin Recreation Center and has heard from the kids at the recreation center that at school, “the food is horrible” and “now they are feeding us in a bag.”
He said those students and his own kids told him that the lunches are even worse.
“When they told me that they ran out of food the other day,” Bourda said, “that’s when I decided to take action and look into it.”
He said he spoke with principal Ty Burdett on Facebook concerning the school running out of food to serve during lunch earlier that week, and was told that some of the kids had left the lunchroom before they could be served the back-up option which had been prepared.
Bourda said that from what he understood, this was the breakfast menu provided by the state, but also said he didn’t believe the state wanted it to be served in a plastic bag.
He said he reached out to the St. Mary Parish School Board and spoke with an employee, who said that she orders the food from the state, but that how it is served is out of her hands. He also said he had attempted to reach Claire Guarisco, supervisor of school food service, for two days but to no avail.
Bourda framed his concern through the argument of experience, saying, “Don’t institutionalize our kids. When I was in prison, I was used to being institutionalized, and that’s how they fed us (in bags). But, the purpose of that was, ‘If you don’t want to be fed like a dog and caged up like a dog, then don’t do whatever it is you did to come here.’
“But it was up to me to decide that if that’s how you get fed in jail, then I’m not going back there. But, my kids are just trying to go to school for a better life and better opportunity. They aren’t guilty of anything.”
The menu page of the St. Mary Parish Schools’ website states, “For Breakfast: We’re continuing our ‘FIRST THINGS FIRST’ campaign to promote the importance of breakfast for kids’ ability to learn in the morning.
“Kids must choose a fruit serving as part of their complete school breakfast. In addition to the fruit, kids must take at least two other items for a complete breakfast, with lots of grain options (most whole-grain rich, as with lunch), milk, occasional vegetable choices, and protein options, too.
“Fat-free and low-fat milk (unflavored or flavored) may be offered, but kids can choose not to take milk if they choose enough other items.”
Guarisco said of the pilot program, “What this is, is a national movement with two models: Breakfast in the Classroom or Breakfast Grab-n-Go. What is going on at Franklin Senior High is Breakfast Grab-N-Go.
“The goal of the program is to increase breakfast participation.”
She said the idea behind the mobile breakfast program is to alleviate the need for students to have to go to the cafeteria to participate in the program.
A cart meets the students as they arrive, and every student is afforded the opportunity to grab a bagged breakfast, as well as options of milk and fruit, as they enter school for the morning.
“At Franklin High School the breakfasts are free to all,” she said.
She also acknowledged the reports of bags being counted and handed to each student as they passed.
Guarisco said the stipulation of one of the grants she received for the program was that the recipients of the breakfast couldn’t eat in the cafeteria as well, because it defeats the point. “Besides, the cafeteria staff is who is serving at the carts.”
In regards to students accepting the breakfast and that appearing to be mandatory, Guarisco said such was not the case, and that each participating school opted to inform students and parents of participation in the program in their own way.
As for the program itself, “I actually wrote to and received three different grants,” she said. “I asked for all of the schools to participate. But, some schools’ (breakfast) participation rates were so high that they didn’t qualify for the grant.”
Guarisco said some of the grants she received were federal, and some were state. However, she said that in any event the schools’ participation in the free breakfast program was a choice made by the schools. If they wanted to take part and they qualified to receive the assistance, then the breakfast program was instituted.
As for the breakfasts being handed out in bags, Guarisco said, “This program was meant to help families who couldn’t make breakfast; and to help kids. I don’t understand why the bags are offensive. It’s just a way to transport the food to the front of the school. And this is the way they are doing it all over. We’re just trying to help kids and do the right thing.”
She said the bags are simply to make carrying the food easy and efficient as the students make their way to their morning classes, “as long as the principals at each school want it.”
“Franklin High is actually our pilot school,” Guarisco said. “We wanted to pilot it at a high school before instituting it around the parish, to work out any kinks.”
“Our average student participation for breakfast across the parish prior to starting this program was 40 percent, meaning that only 40 percent of attendees at school on any given day were eating breakfast.
“Our lunch participation was 80 percent. So, the kids would go to the cafeteria to eat lunch, but we were missing out on the kids eating their breakfasts.”
The culprit was thought to be accessibility.
Guarisco said, “It’s right there. It’s ready for you.”
For the time being, breakfast will continue to be served to the FSHS student body through the daily Grab-N-Go option, available and ready in the name of accessibility and healthy kids.
“All we want is for more kids to get their breakfast,” Guarisco said. “We are just trying to help. This is a great program and we just want to help the kids.”

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