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Program offers free meals to Durham students

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DURHAM, N.C. -

Some students in Durham Public Schools are getting free lunches every day thanks to a pilot program that was launched this January.

The program is offered in 22 schools. For three of those schools, Eastway Elementary, Bethesda Elementary and Lakewood Elementary, kids also get to eat their breakfast in the classroom.

The goal is to have kids be more focused, score higher on tests and have fewer attendance and discipline problems.

The program is also taking away any stigmas associated with students who receive a free or reduced cost breakfast.

Teachers say they are already seeing a quieter start to the day.

"They can come in here and eat and go ahead and get started on school work. I think it keeps them more focused and ready for the day than coming down and right before class starts they're trying to unpack. Now, they just come in, eat and go right to work," said Megan Sanders, a kindergarten teacher at Eastway Elementary.

Teachers also say the students are more alert.

"Before a lot of them came in sleepy, tired or saying, ‘I'm so hungry. I didn't get anything to eat last night' or whatever, so I have seen that difference," says Tanwa Rhodes, a first-grade teacher at Eastway Elementary.

The district received money to start up the program from the Food Research and Action Center based in Washington, D.C. and from the United Dairy Industry Association.

"It's just nice for them to get in, get a hearty meal. Everything we serve meets the USDA requirements for meal patterns. They're getting a healthy meal in a safe environment and I think that's the most important thing we can do," said James Keaten, executive director of Child Nutrition Services in Durham Public Schools.

Schools receive $1.60 from the federal government for reimbursement of each free and reduced meal and also a portion of that for students who pay for meals.

For Eastway Elementary, that's an additional $50,000 coming to the school to help cover the cost of meals.

The nutrition staff will ask the school board next month to roll out the program to all schools next year.

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