At a meeting of the Newfield Central School District Board of Education Sept. 5, the board discussed the state of current school lunches and the efforts of the school to provide adequate emotional support to the students.
Jennifer Pawlewicz, board of education member, commented at the beginning of the meeting that she would like to add an agenda item proposing a resolution to make school lunches free during the time when hot lunches are not available due to construction.
Currently the students are receiving items such as hot cheese bagels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and turkey sandwiches (with milk and a side of fruit and carrots) because of the renovation being done on the school kitchen.
The lunches are only supposed to be cold for the next couple of weeks, said District Superintendent Cheryl Thomas, adding that meals adhere to very specific state dietary standards as well as Department of Health standards, which state hot food cannot be cooked in the unfinished kitchen.
“I know this is through no fault of the kitchen,” said Pawlewicz, who has high school-age boys. “I also know that kids went home hungry today.”
“We just raised our lunch prices pretty significantly,” she added. “I feel like I can pack what they had today for much less than $2.75.”
Thomas said the school cannot afford to subsidize free lunches while the kitchens are completed. “We can’t ask the taxpayers to do that,” she said.
The board and administrators came to a solution: the school will do a better job of publicizing the school lunch situation so families can make informed decisions about whether or not they want to pay for it.
In other school business, Laine Gillette, elementary school vice principal, and Jamie McCaffrey, Newfield schools social worker, gave a presentation about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and their affect on student behavior and academic performance.
There are 10 major categories that all ACEs fall under, and Gillette said that many students have one or more. ACEs include psychological abuse, physical abuse, loss of a parent for any reason and mental illness in the home.
“This is not exclusive to urban, rural or suburban settings,” Gillette said. “It’s everywhere. Children are coming into our schools, and they don’t know how to react to what’s happening at home.”
Gillette, who was formerly a teacher, said that one year she found herself wondering why she had so many behavioral issues in her class. She had to face the fact that issues students were having at home were having a huge impact on her classroom when she realized seven of her 20 students had an incarcerated family member at the time.
“Our classrooms are transforming at such a high rate that, right now, we’re not keeping up with it,” Gillette said. “There’s also the heroin epidemic we’re seeing all over New York state. You have students whose parents or aunts or uncles are dying of an overdose.”
McCaffrey suggested self care not only for the students but the teachers as well, since those working with the students can sometimes carry the burden of the children’s emotional problems. Mindfulness, as much as it is a “buzzword,” is helpful, she said. Some teachers are already incorporating breathing exercises and other activities into the school day, she added. “We should be doing anything we can do to reduce stress for our educators,” she said, suggesting that administrators make sure teachers have time designated before school and during lunch when they can relax and not be disturbed.
McCaffrey and Gillette thanked the board of education and administration for the recent hire of a new social worker, which makes a total of three for the district, saying that it is a huge help.
“I think I speak for everybody when I say I want to support this, and come back and talk with us in a couple months if there’s anything that you need, or a proposal,” said board of education member Jim Grochocinski.
“A couple months from now is the perfect time, when we start budget discussions,” agreed Thomas.
Christina Ward proposed a resolution stating that the district change the way it addresses mail. Currently, certain correspondences are addressed to families as “Mr. and Mrs.” and the first and last name of the male parent. Ward said this feels very outdated and that it should be changed to address the first and last name of both parents.
The board, for the most-part, agreed, though board member W. Scott Jackson asked why Ward found “this, of all things, such a major issue.”
“Because words matter,” replied Ward, “and it’s such a minor fix for something I don’t even notice when it’s gone but notice when it’s there.”
Meng-Wei Hsu, board of education member, pointed out that the current system could completely misaddress parents in same-sex couples or caregivers who do not fall within the traditional married couple structure.
Though no official resolution was made, Thomas said the district would look into the problem and move in the direction of fixing it, though she indicated that it may not be an easy fix due to the school’s automated system.