BZ 102814 Polk Elementary School Lunch 03-2

Sixth grade students eat lunch at Polk Elementary School on Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014.

Ogden just took a big step toward improving its public school system.

Not by passing a $106 million bond issue.

Not by building new elementary schools or gateway learning centers.

No — by no longer charging students who participate in the Ogden School District’s free and reduced-price meal program.

  • RELATED: “Ogden School District to expand free meal service for 8 schools”

Effective Tuesday, Jan. 16, students who previously paid a discounted price for their meals now eat free. Students whose families earn too much to qualify for the program continue pay full price.

The change affects eight Ogden schools. Every other school in the district already provides free meals for all students.

For good reason — according to a 2015 report by Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks, 17.2 percent of Weber County children live in food insecurity.

Essentially, that means 12,000 local children lack dependable access to sufficient food for healthy, active lives.

When those children show up at school hungry, it hurts their ability to learn.

Utahns Against Hunger surveyed educators in late 2013 and asked them about hunger in their classrooms. Three out of five teachers said children arrived at school hungry; 56 percent said more than five students showed up hungry each week.

About two thirds of the teachers who responded to the survey said they bought food for their students. Why? Because “86 percent of teachers agree that there is a strong connection between a healthy breakfast and a child’s ability to succeed in the classroom,” according to the survey.

Nearly every teacher agreed addressing student hunger “would make significant impacts on education.”

Highland Junior High School Principal Stacey Briggs asked district officials before Christmas if it was possible to serve a free in-classroom breakfast to every student.

“We have students who are hungry,” Briggs told Sergio Martinez-Beltran, a reporter for the Standard-Examiner. “This is an opportunity to see if they can learn better if they have an extra chance to eat in the morning.”

Officials agreed, making Highland the first secondary school in the district to offer a free universal breakfast. More than 800 students will potentially benefit, Briggs said.

So will every student who faces food insecurity in the Ogden School District. Because now they can count on at least two healthy meals a day, which improves their ability to learn.

And that makes Ogden a stronger community.

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