Morning at Roxbury Village School starts with a friendly face and breakfast. The same is true at the other schools at the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools district and probably also at most schools in the state. And, for the past two school years — during the pandemic — meals have been free for all students all year.
Public school food programs are seen as providing more than life-sustaining material. “Cafeterias are the largest classrooms in our schools. The lessons learned in the cafeteria are lessons learned for a lifetime,” said James Birmingham, Montpelier Roxbury’s director of food services. “You can’t overstate the importance of a nutritious meal to our students’ education.
Students need to be properly nourished in order to be at their best in the classroom.”
Louise Iwaschuk, Roxbury Village School’s food service coordinator, waits at the front door each morning with a food cart offering a variety of things to eat, including cereal, fruit, milk, juice, banana bread, yogurt, and sometimes hot egg-and-cheese sandwiches, waffles with maple syrup, and French toast sticks.
Roxbury principal Beth Kellogg expressed gratitude for Iwaschuk, saying, “She fills tummies with food and fills hearts with joy.” Kellogg describes how, each day, Iwaschuk warmly greets students on arrival before offering them ready-to-go breakfast items. Kellogg further describes how Iwaschuk fills the need for students to have a good breakfast so they are able to learn and how she also offers hospitality throughout the morning, especially when students pop by the kitchen for a mid-morning snack. “Even though she may be busy preparing lunch, she will stop her work to get a snack for a hungry student.”
Then, at lunch, she is again warmly serving food to students in addition to providing special treats on special days. “She is truly a treasure here at Roxbury Village School, and we are grateful for all that she does for our students and our staff,” Kellogg said. And students also express their appreciation by making drawings for her, which she posts on her door.
Tyler Langlois, grade 2, gets breakfast nearly every morning. He said his favorite thing to eat in the morning is banana bread. Other students happily munch away before their daily morning meeting. And any stigma of being labeled as a kid from a certain income bracket has been removed since every student is allowed to eat food provided by school — at least for now.
“All school meals are free for all students for the school year,” according to the food service website from the Montpelier Roxbury School District. The United States Department of Agriculture has been funding the free school lunch program since August 31, 2020 as part of the federal relief response to COVID-19, according to USDA.gov. The national food and nutrition service says this is to make sure low-income and rural students get the nourishment they need. But the economics of providing free food for all — forever — may not be sustainable.
Superintendent Libby Bonesteel put it this way, “I am in favor of free lunches, but not if it is part of local school budgets. This would be a significant lift for our taxpayers and would have school officials having to make very hard choices come budget time.”
Birmingham weighed in on the economics of the topic by saying having universally free school meals affords every student the same opportunity to select healthy nutritious meals at school. It has felt really good to not have to worry kids about food money at school. I hope that universally free school meals are here to stay.”