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NTI food service

NTI days feed students' minds – so why not their tummies?
Kentucky School Advocate
February 2017
By Matt McCarty
Staff writer
Embedded Image for:  (2017124113842255_image.jpg)

More than 70 school districts around the state are approved to use non-traditional instruction days this winter. But the federal government does not reimburse districts for student meals on NTI days.

One district that is able to feed students on NTI days is Owsley County. The eastern Kentucky district, which was one of the pilot districts in the state’s NTI program, participated last year in a federal pilot program that allows it to deliver food to students on NTI days and be reimbursed for the expenses.

Owsley County was notified in early December that it had been selected for the pilot again this year. Superintendent Tim Bobrowski said when his district began using NTI days in 2011, not being able to feed students on those days was a concern.

Owsley County school district employees deliver food to a home during an NTI day last year. (Photo courtesy of Owsley County Schools)

“This is, in my opinion, one of the first steps that needs to happen because my argument has always been if this is an instructional day, which it is classified by KDE as such, and we’re meeting their requirements, then why can’t these kids be fed on these days?” Bobrowski said.

The interest is there
He is not alone in that assessment. Beth Peterson, who works with the NTI programs at the Kentucky Department of Education, said she’s heard from several food service directors about the desire to be able to feed students and be reimbursed for it on NTI days.

“I emailed all of my districts and said, ‘Is anybody feeding students on these days?’ And a ton of them said, ‘No, but we’d really like to; we don’t, but can we have a pilot to do this?’ So there’s huge interest in doing it, but we just don’t have a way of accommodating that because the money comes from the federal level and not from the state level,” Peterson said.
Embedded Image for:  (2017124115053477_image.jpg) She said when districts are deciding whether or not to have a regular class day, an NTI day or cancelling classes altogether, food service is a consideration “because superintendents know that some of their kids may not eat if they’re not coming to school.”

Two federal food service programs are available as potential options for districts to utilize to serve reimbursable meals and/or snacks during regular snow days. Districts can contact KDE’s division of school and community nutrition at (502) 564-5625 for more information on that.

Peterson said the USDA is looking at the data from the pilot program Owsley County is participating in “to determine if this is a program that they want to expand to more people. We have put in the request if it is expanded, we would like all of our NTI districts to be part of the bigger pilot, but we just don’t know if that’s going to go anywhere or not.”

Two-thirds of Kentucky school districts approved to use NTI days have above the state average (60.2 percent) of students on free/reduced lunch. Twenty-five of the districts have more than 70 percent of their students on free/reduced lunch. (See chart at left)

“I wish there was something more we could do at the state level but since it’s not our money, we’re going to have to kind of wait, but I do think it is encouraging that so many districts are recognizing the need and are really looking for an opportunity to be able to feed the students on snow days,” Peterson said.
Embedded Image for:  (201712411429657_image.jpg) “Why not?”
Last winter, the Owsley County school district delivered 960 meals to students during its 10 NTI days. Bobrowski said the district could eventually double those numbers.

“We just kind of went into it kind of blindfold because no one’s really (done this) yet so we didn’t really know. But we at least have enough now to kind of track and keep up with numbers so that we know where we’re at,” he said. “Last year, we had one of the coldest winters we’ve ever had. … It was a mess. But it spoke volumes of my staff and my people in my district who didn’t let the cold, didn’t let a little bad weather hold them back from doing what they know is the right thing to do.”

The family resource/youth services center staff assists the district in identifying students who need meals. District officials delivered 124 meals, 154 meals and 187 meals, respectively, during the first three NTI days this January.

The district purchased a four-wheel drive vehicle to make travel safer for food deliveries on NTI days. It also helped the district increase its numbers so far this year.

“This was a commitment (the school board) made to support students and families in the community,” Bobrowski said.
Former Owsley County food service director Charolette Thompson (blue sweatshirt) helps deliver food to students on an NTI day. (Photo courtesy of Owsley County Schools) 

He said if his district weren’t being reimbursed for expenses on NTI days it wouldn’t have the resources to feed students.

“Let’s put some laws to work that are going to benefit kids and if we’re going to call it an instructional day, let’s call it an instructional day and let’s not let some paperwork get in our way. I hope somebody will pick up on that and file a bill this year to try to advocate for feeding kids on these days for districts that want to do it,” he said. “It’s not a mandatory thing, but if you’re in a small enough district and you know the kids and you know the families, why not?”
Board View: Delivery is a team effort
Owsley County school board Chairwoman Joyce Campbell said district leaders had discussed ways to feed students on non-traditional instruction days for a long time before getting into a federal pilot that provides reimbursement for food delivered to students on these days. “We wondered why we couldn’t do that. It took some time and some work but they didn’t stop.
“I just don’t think people realize how poor and hungry some of them are,” Campbell said. “We have a lot of people who aren’t but we have a great number of people who really do well by this program.”
She said churches, both in Owsley County and from other counties, “know what a need we have and they’ve been wonderful about contributing things.”

Campbell also lauded everyone – from Superintendent Tim Bobrowski to the food service workers to the bus drivers – who worked to deliver food to the students. “And lots of other people who went out and helped them with the program on those days and just made it a success.”

The entire school board has been 100 percent supportive of the program, she said, because having food “makes for better learning” for the students.

Owsley County is among the poorest in the nation with 37.7 percent of its population living below poverty level and more than 85 percent of its students on free/reduced lunch.

“I think it’s one of the best things we could offer them because we have hungry children – and hungry people – and they meet the food delivery people and they’re so grateful for what they get,” Campbell said. “People worried at the beginning of the backpack (feeding) program that people might be ashamed to come out and get it, but it’s not made them feel that way because nobody makes them feel like that about it.”
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