Close to half of the kids who attend Baltimore County public schools eat meals at school on free and reduced meal programs, and a county councilwoman wants to end the stigma for the ones that do.
Legislation expected to pass a vote by the Baltimore County Council will benefit some 3,200 kids, said Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Democrat representing the county's second district, just northwest of the city-county line.
"I think this breaks the cycle." Almond said.
Kids who go to school hungry are sometimes a bit slow, groggy and can find it difficult to learn.
At Riverview Elementary in Landsdowne where 600 kids attend classes each day, nearly half of those students attend while hungry, according to the state's education department.
"I was getting information from people who worked at schools," Almond said. "They've all said that one of the biggest issues in their school is hunger."
District wide, 30 schools have students that qualify for free or reduced lunches, according to a district official. Sometimes, however, kids may feel too embarrassed to use it, Almond said. Her solution is to make all kids eligible to eat free, regardless of income.
"These are about families who are working maybe two jobs to feed a family of four, and they're not making ends meet," Almond said.
Her legislation sets aside close to $585,000 to help reach that goal. Four county schools – Hawthorne Middle School, Dundalk middle and high schools, Riverview, and another in Dundalk High School in Middle River – will be part of the pilot program starting next school year.
"Anytime we can provide other opportunities for our students, it's always a great thing," said Kevin Smith, Chief Administrator and Operations Officer for Baltimore County schools. "We do a host of pilots like this throughout the district so this is not necessarily uncommon for us."
Almond's legislation also establishes a task force to track numbers on attendance, test scores and discipline issued at the schools. She said she has the support of the council as well as the county teachers union.
"I've had a few people say to me 'Is it really our responsibility to do this?' I think, yes, it is," Almond said.