New ways tried to get kids to eat

Four S.F. schools to have meal ‘swipe’ card system, ‘grab and go’ breakfasts

San Francisco’s public school system is working on new ways to get students who might otherwise go hungry to eat at school.

This year, a new “swipe” card system will be piloted at four district schools and will eventually make it easier for students to buy lunches. It will also act as an equalizer by removing the “free lunch” stigma, hiding the fact that some students pay for meals and others don’t.

“The only person who will be aware of what’s happening is the cafeteria lady,” said Dana Woldow, who co-chairs a parent advisory committee for student nutrition in the district.

The swipe system would work with the students’ school identification card. When the system is first implemented, it will be used to streamline the record-keeping of how many meals are consumed by students in the district each day and what percentage are given out for free.

Once the program is working in full mode, parents will be able to go on the Internet and put money into a student’s electronic cafeteria account, eliminating some of the discomfort students who don’t pay may feel, since other students will be swiping and not handing over cash either.

The pilot program — funded through $30,000 in federal grants and $34,000 from The City — will begin this month at two district schools: Balboa High School and Bessie Carmichael Elementary School, and eventually expand to Tenderloin Elementary School and Marina Middle School, possibly by spring. The district’s student nutrition department is preparing to apply for a $1 million grant, which would pay for full implementation of the program at all schools.

At the four trial-run schools, the district will also roll out a “grab and go” breakfast program that began at Balboa last year, which allows students who couldn’t get a healthy breakfast at home — for time management or financial reasons — to pick up a portable meal such as a bagel, fruit and milk and take it into the classroom in the morning.

Making meals to go and easier to get are some ways to ensure that students get the nutrition needed to be able to focus on their work in the classroom, officials say The district also has a policy of giving a meal to any student who doesn’t have money.

beslinger@examiner.com

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