NORWICH — Marion Cross School students and families have embraced a new lunch program this school year, according to the principal.
While in recent years the school has provided bagged meals to students who wanted them, the school is now participating in the federal school nutrition program and providing hot meals for the first time, Principal Shawn Gonyaw said.
About 90% of the school’s students get a hot lunch on Fridays, when pizza is on the menu, he said. On other days, participation ranges from 75-80%, much higher than in previous years when few of the school’s approximately 300 students in grades K-6 received school meals, he said.
Although the same group, Fresh Picks Cafe, recently prepared some of the same meals in Hanover, they came over to Norwich in bags.
“It just loses something when it’s packed and put in a brown bag,” Gonyaw said.
This year, the meals are prepared at Hanover High School and then transported to Marion Cross School, where a food service worker reheats them in the school’s oven, and the meals are served hot on trays. Meals cannot be fully prepared and cooked at Marion Cross until the school gets a new septic system, Gonyaw said.
But there is progress even on the long-standing septic issue. The Norwich School District on Thursday issued a request for proposals seeking details on costs to replace and install a pretreatment system for an on-site septic plant. Proposals must be submitted no later than 10 a.m. on November 1. The board expects to select a pretreatment system by January.
“Assuming the RFP process results in a proposal the board can support, we hope to have an eligible article on the ballot for a vote at the March 2023 Town Meeting,” school board President Tom Candon said in an email.
According to the RFP, the board hopes that construction will be complete by the end of August 25, 2024.
At the same time, students at Marion Cross are adjusting to the new lunchtime program. In recent years, almost all Marion Cross students brought lunch from home and one child from each class went to the school kitchen to collect the food in the sacks. This year, students learned to stand in a hot lunch line for the first time, Gonyaw said.
“Marion Cross School kids have never had a hot lunch,” he said.
The school implemented the new program this school year in accordance with a new state law, SB 100, which requires all public schools in the state to participate in the federal school lunch program without waivers.
Marion Cross and Windham Elementary, which had fewer than 20 children enrolled last year and also began serving meals under the new law this fall, are the last two schools to begin participating in the federal program, said Rosie Krueger, Vermont’s director of children. nutritional program. Prior to the new legislation, schools had the option of exempting themselves from the federal program.
Krueger acknowledged that participating in the federal program requires some extra paperwork, but she said the program’s rules are mainly in place to “ensure that students receive a healthy and safe meal.”
Most of the regulations relate to food safety and nutritional standards, Krueger said.
“I think there’s a good reason for that,” she said.
Marion Cross School parent Molly Riordan, who also serves as co-president of the school’s parent organization and whose oldest child is now in college, said she has long hoped the school would participate in the federal lunch program, but she said the school’s “kitchen limitations” made it difficult .
“Now I know the state of Vermont has mandated lunch … which I think is great,” Riordan said.
As a result, free meals are available to all students every school day, she said. The Vermont Legislature, through SB 100, expanded universal free school meals, previously available nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic, this school year. New Hampshire, like much of the rest of the country, has returned to the pre-pandemic requirement that families income qualify for free or reduced meals.
Riordan said there is a perception that families in Norwich, where U.S. Census data shows the median household income was more than $83,000 in 2020, may not need free meals. But, she said, “as a parent, I think it’s amazing.”
She currently has a second grader and a sixth grader at the school. One of them likes the school breakfasts and sometimes likes the lunch. Riordan said it’s nice to have the option.
“The quality of this food has definitely improved,” she said.
Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3213.