A new statewide ranking of school districts doing a good job of providing nutritious meals to students has been released, and two Houston-area districts have come out on top.
According to the list from nonprofit research organization, Children at Risk, Aldine ISD and Houston ISD placed first and second, respectively, in terms of districts with more than 50,000 students in the state.
"So far this year, we’ve served 3,623,377 breakfasts. We’ve served 6,620,513 lunches, and that doesn’t count all the other things,” said LaTonya Goffey, superintendent of Aldine ISD. The district also supplies kids with after-school snack options.
"If a student is hungry, everything else becomes secondary," said Goffey. "Learning won’t happen, and our carefully crafted mission statements become meaningless.”
Overall in Texas, 56% of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.
"We live in an area in the state of Texas where the majority of our children come from low-income households and have the potential to be coming from a food-insecure family," said Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk. "These free breakfasts and lunches are part of the equation to make sure kids are successful."
While Houston has some of the highest-ranking schools on the list, it is also home to the lowest.
YES Prep, a charter school on the south side of the city, received the lowest ranking in the state, with only 17% of those eligible for free breakfast actually receiving it from the school. Meanwhile, Houston-based charter, KIPP Academy, received the lowest ranking in terms of lunch participation.
Sanborn says each school district has the same potential for providing top-notch nutrition, and the ones that have seen the most success have proactively sought new options for getting food to kids.
"They're trying new things. For example, at a high school level, you're seeing grab-and-go breakfast in between periods, where kids are grabbing breakfast tacos in the hall in-between classes," said Sanborn. "At the elementary level, you might see breakfast delivered to the classroom."
Sanborn also says schools should work to reduce the stigma surrounding receiving free school meals for children who need them.