Floyd County program provides students with lunch and learning, earns KSBA PEAK Award
Kentucky School Advocate
By Matt McCarty
About one in five children in Kentucky struggle with hunger during their childhood. In addition, students sometimes aren’t exposed to learning opportunities during the summer, making them susceptible to the summer slide.
Floyd County Schools is combatting both concerns with one program.
“Literacy, Lunch and Learning feeds our kids physically and educationally during the summer,” school board Chairwoman Sherry Robinson wrote in a letter nominating the program for KSBA’s PEAK Award. “There is no doubt that making sure our children are fed and nourished directly impacts learning.”
The program has tripled the number of meals served over the past year and has led to improvements in students’ kindergarten readiness. As a result, Literacy, Lunch and Learning was selected as KSBA’s Fall 2019 PEAK Award winner, becoming the 50th program to receive the honor
The award, given twice yearly, was established in 1997 to focus statewide attention on outstanding public school efforts that enhance student learning and promote the positive impact of public elementary and secondary education in Kentucky.
Literacy, Lunch and Learning is a “stellar program with clear objectives and results. Well organized, obvious need identified and met,” wrote Penny Christian, Kentucky PTA’s 16th District president who judged the entries.
“The passion and leadership are a great example for all students,” wrote judge Rhonda Hardy, an Estill County board member and member of KSBA’s Board of Directors.
As part of its summer feeding program, the district determined areas within the district where it can provide lunch for the most children in an efficient way. About 70 percent of the nearly 5,500 students in Floyd County Schools qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch.
Floyd County’s school nutrition director, Dale Pack, selected 36 sites in the county that the district believed would ensure the most children had access to the meals which are free for all children 18 and under.
This past summer, the district served more than 14,000 meals – nearly 10,000 more than the previous summer.
But the program, which began four year ago, goes beyond just feeding students over the summer, it also provides instruction.
Floyd County Library staff provide STEM activities for children ages 7-13 at the sites and the Floyd County Mobile Library, Floyd County Extension Office and KET all participate through a mini-grant for Family Creative Learning workshops. The workshops focus on early learning and engaging families with science content.
“All have invested their time to contribute to teaching students and families about school readiness and ways to assist their children so that they will be academically prepared for school,” Jessica Kiser, a Floyd County preschool teacher, wrote in a nomination letter. “These programs have given children and their families other resources that can be used to assist children in learning and have informed parents about other events they can attend that focus on academic achievement now and in the future.”
The program has allowed Kiser to work with parents who want to help their children gain needed skills but sometimes lack the knowledge about how to help, she said.
“The program focuses on modeling and teaching skills that help parents be forever teachers for their children. Family involvement leads to academic success in the future by assisting families in understanding that for their child to have the academic success, they too must be involved and reinforce skills at home,” Kiser wrote, adding that the program has also given children a confidence boost.
“The skills and concepts taught in the program are skills children need to be successful in school. These needed skills are taught using developmentally appropriate strategies such as hands-on and movement activities which promote children to be thinkers rather than rote learners. Teaching children how to think for themselves prepares them to be lifelong learners.”
Floyd County’s program has already had an impact in the number of children fed, on stopping the summer slide in students and on preparing students for school.
In 2016-17, 59 percent of Floyd County students came to kindergarten ready to learn as measured by the Brigance Kindergarten Screener. Two years later, that number rose to 64.2 percent, ranking the district 16th in the state.
Additionally, the number of Floyd County students who attended Head Start deemed ready for kindergarten increased from 78.8 percent in 2016-17 to 90.9 percent this school year, the highest readiness number for that group in the state. Students in state-funded preschool who were ready to learn rose from 72.6 percent to 86.2 percent (ranked third in the state) during those same years.
“I believe children are more prepared to enter school because of the skills they develop during the program and the support they have from their family,” Kiser said.
Angel Meek and her 5-year-old son, Thomas, attended the program for the first time this past summer. The extra instruction helped prepare her son to enter kindergarten this year, Meek wrote in a nomination letter.
“The program helped introduce my child to concepts he would be learning in school,” she wrote. “The program taught him expectations while showing him how learning can be fun.”
Meek has seen a “huge improvement” in Thomas. “He is loving school, loving learning, and I love that,” she wrote. “I also loved the community involvement the program had.”
The district is reimbursed for the food costs through the Summer Food Service Program and uses the KET grant and Title I funds for parent and community engagement to pay for the instructional costs.
Robinson, who also serves on KSBA’s Board of Directors, said the district does spend some money on the program, but the school board members “believe the benefits of this program far exceeds the costs.”
“It bridges the distance between people in need and community partners who can help,” she said.