On Tuesday, the second day of spring break for many metro Atlanta schools, Indian Creek Elementary School principal Stephanie Brown-Bryant stood behind a metal serving cart in her cafeteria preparing meals.
“All the other principals are on the beach,” she said with a laugh.
Hers is one of two DeKalb County schools — the other is Snapfinger Elementary School in Decatur — open Monday and Tuesday to serve lunch to families over the break, a service made possible through an anonymous donation. The donation also allowed the district to serve families several times during the two-week winter break that began in late December.
For children in families who do not use the time to vacation and tour colleges, spring break can mean an interruption of steady meals, which has been said to affect student achievement. Connie Walker, the district’s director of nutrition services, said students return from extended breaks focused on their empty stomachs instead of their class work.
“They’re very hungry and asking for extra servings,” she said. “We want to keep them focused on learning instead of worrying about where the next meal will come from.”
The initiative goes hand-in-hand with the district’s efforts to provide more services to students beyond classroom instruction and impact the achievement gaps between students of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds. In DeKalb, about 70 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch. At Indian Creek, located in Clarkston and serving many from DeKalb’s refugee resettlement district, all the students receive free breakfast and lunch.
Tuesday morning, the cafeteria was filled by students who walked to school with friends, stay-at-home parents who brought their children for the free meal and families who came to socialize with others from the community.
Maria Garcia and her son, Bryan, sat near the serving station late Tuesday morning, enjoying a meal of grilled chicken, candied yams, green beans and yellow rice. Bryan Garcia, 9, attends third grade at the school. Maria Garcia, with her son translating, said the meal helped her to not blow her budget, as she depends on the school meals during the week to stretch her money.
“If there is no food at our home, we can come here to eat,” she said. “It helps us a lot.”
Mohamed Najid came with his wife and their three daughters, all of whom attend the school. While they did not need the meal, he saw the invitation as a unique opportunity to have lunch with his girls at their school, where they spend most of their days. He pointed out and waved to several neighbors there doing the same.
“It brings communities together,” he said. “That’s what we need. The more the community is in the school, the better.”
More than 1,000 people were fed Monday and Tuesday at the school. Brown-Bryant, the principal, said many would have gone without a meal otherwise.
“On days like this, I do worry how they’re going to eat,” she said. “This way, I get to know they’re OK. I know they’ll get a nutritious meal.
“And I can remind them to read while they’re on break.”
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