The archdiocesan schools’ Child Nutrition Program adopted an initiative for the 2020-2021 year to assure students will be provided breakfast and lunch each school day whether they were learning in school or remotely at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Schools had to adapt to circumstances we never would have anticipated a year ago,” said Steven Pallonetti, the newly named director of government programs and student services in the Superintendent of Schools’ office, who served as director of the Child Nutrition Program until this month.
In addition to serving students in the classroom, the Child Nutrition Program also must meet the needs of students learning remotely as well as others following a hybrid model, Pallonetti said.
Students attending school are offered a hot meal delivered to their classrooms by the cafeteria staff.
Hybrid students are given a cold breakfast and lunch for the next day at home as they leave school. School officials coordinate with parents of full-time remote students to provide breakfasts and lunches. A cold breakfast includes cereal, cheese stick, fresh fruit, fruit juice and milk, and a cold lunch features a sandwich, fresh fruits and vegetables, and milk.
All meals given to students by schools are free this school year through a program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It models after our Catholic identity of feeding kids not only spiritually but physically,” said Michael Coppotelli, senior associate superintendent of schools. “It was a no-brainer for us to do this. Ultimately, when you have kids at the heart of all you do, the decisions come easy.
“The credit belongs to the cafeteria staffs, the supervisors, principals and teachers who really helped us to implement this. Without them, none of this would have happened.”
Coppotelli added a study by the Food Research and Action Center shows students do better in the classroom if they eat breakfast at school. Students also have lower rates of absence, tardiness and fewer disciplinary referrals.
“It reinforced serving kids breakfast and lunch in school ensures for them a well-rounded education,” he said.
Kathy Kelly became the Child Nutrition Program’s director March 1 after serving in the program since 2015 and previously teaching at St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School on Staten Island for 32 years.
“A big part of the mission was to make sure the children ate,” she said. “The fact we can provide them with a hot meal of their favorite things and it’s brought to them by their favorite people from the cafeteria staff. It’s a nice break for them. It’s a nutritious meal. They’re the same meals they were served in the cafeteria.
“It’s vital because for a lot of our students it could be their main two meals of the day.”
The Child Nutrition Program is in 44 schools and 45 sites located in the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island and Westchester County. As of Feb. 28, meal counts in the current school year at these sites were 424,461 for breakfast and 486,703 for lunch.
Archdiocesan school officials are waiting to see what the 2021-2022 school year will bring, whether more students will be attending school and not learning remotely, if students will be eating in the cafeteria again and building a camaraderie with students beyond their own classroom, and if meals at schools will continue to be free for all students.
“We’ll take it day by day and re-evaluate when we’re told what the situation will be in September and whether students will be eating in the cafeteria or the classroom,” Ms. Kelly said. “We’ll just go with the flow and make sure the children eat.”