It was beef tacos on Tuesday.

Pizza on Wednesday.

And on Thursday, meatball subs, garden salad and fresh fruit salad.

About 50 students at Bricker Elementary School in Harrison School District 2 are enjoying these kid-friendly free meals in the cafeteria - at 4:45 p.m. for dinner.

While the federal free breakfast and lunch programs have been in place in schools nationwide for years, providing dinner for impoverished kids is fairly new.

Harrison is believed to be the first school district in Colorado to participate. (The program is in place in some childcare centers and other community after-school programs.)

Funding comes from The Child and Adult Care Food Program, under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Communities where at least 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches can apply. At Bricker more than 84 percent of the students qualify for the free or reduced-price meals. Districtwide, more than 70 percent of the 10,000 students are impoverished.

Harrison provides dinner for those who participate in a 90-minute after school academic program, making for a long school day. The D-2 administration says the meals are as important as reading, writing and math, and in fact make learning possible.

Food insecurity, as it is called, manifests itself in many ways in the classroom. "When kids are hungry they can't focus on lessons," says Bricker Principal Stacy Aldridge. She says hungry students often act distracted or misbehave. Their plight is sometimes noticed by other behaviors, such as taking extra food from the cafeteria, asking peers for their lunches and sometimes telling teachers when they haven't eaten.

Bricker expects to have 75 students in the program in the next few weeks. The dinners also are being provided at Giberson and Stratmoor Hills elementary schools, Panorama Middle School and Sierra High School. The pilot program is using five schools that make up the district's "Schools of Promise" initiative to help lagging students succeed.

Those chosen for the extra academics and dinner are getting extra tutoring because they are under performing on their state assessment tests. The school administrators personally invited parents to sign their kids up.

About 20 Bricker students also receive backpacks of meals for their families over the weekends.

"If we can help families with food, it is one less worry they have," Aldridge said.

Those who stay after school only for sports programs are not generally eligible for the meals unless they are spending some of the time being tutored. But coaches can accommodate athletes case-by-case.

D-2 administrators hope to expand the dinner program to other D-2 schools this year.

The district is reimbursed $4 per dinner per child. "The money allows the district to purchase and cook the food, and serve it," explained D-2 spokeswoman Christine Lyle.

So far, it's a big hit.

Earlier this week, nine-year-old Cyra DeLosh, was daintily but enthusiastically finishing everything on her plate, which included pizza, peas, carrots, a green salad and fruit. "l like it all," she said, with a big smile. She explained she had worked up an appetite in her after school math class. "We did rounding numbers to place values," she said.

Her parents MIchael and Marie DeLosh picked her up after school.

"It's wonderful. She's smart and the tutoring is really helping," said Marie DeLosh. "The meals help with our gorcery bills. And I have some medical problems so I don't have the stress to get the dinner on the table right away."

Cyra says that she has decided what she wants to be when she grows up: "A chef."


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