State recognizes school nutrition program

COVINGTON -- Newton County students are eating their breakfast.

The Georgia Department of Education School Nutrition program recently recognized three Newton County schools for exceeding state averages in breakfast participation during the 2007-08 school year, the most recent year the state has recorded.

Middle Ridge Elementary School showed a 60 percent participation rate that school year, Fairview Elementary School had a 58 percent rate and Sharp Learning Center had a 36 percent rate.

Overall participation in the Newton County School System was 28 percent that school year; the state average for breakfast participation was 30.6 percent.

Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent for operations at NCSS, said the school nutrition department didn't make a special push on breakfast during that school year, but this school year breakfasts are different, which could help increase participation even more.

"This year we have changed our breakfast menus to a two-week rotation instead of a one-week rotation," he said. "We have changed the breakfast chicken patty we serve to a product of greater quality. In addition, we have added new items to the breakfast menus at the middle and high school levels."

New items include yogurt parfait, egg choices, and cheese and ham breakfast sandwiches.

"The participation at middle and high school is lower than at the elementary schools," he said. "For this reason, we are piloting the new items at these two levels."

He said Jan Loomans, nutrition director at NCSS, and the nutrition staff at each school help increase participation at both breakfast and lunch.

"The entire NCSS nutrition team has committed themselves to focusing on a systematic menu evaluation process and enhancing customer service in all of our cafeterias," he said. "In addition, we have seen an increase in the number of students who qualify for free and reduced price meals. Increases in these two areas generally lead to greater participation in school breakfast and lunch programs."

Lunch participation for the 2007-08 school year was 74.9 percent. For the 2008-09 school year, breakfast participation increased to 29.4 percent and lunch participation to 76.8 percent.

"Each year we are seeing steady increases in both breakfast and lunch participation," Carpenter said.