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Nampa charter school orders take-out five days a week

Five hundred students are sinking their teeth into pizzas, burritos and chow mein this semester at a new Nampa charter school. Rather than requiring students to bring a lunch of their own, the school chose to cater their meals instead.

The Idaho Arts Charter School told BW their vendors are Nampa restaurants, such as Papa John's Pizza, the Hong Kong Buffet and Super Pollo Bandito. Principal Jackie Collins said the school's decision was meant to ease the school lunch burden for parents and students alike.

"A lot of charter schools don't serve lunches at all, and that can limit their population," she said. Collins hoped providing hot meals would make the school more accessible for a greater number of students by giving the families one less thing to worry about. She said parents often do not have any extra time to worry about packing their children lunch. Also, since a group of parents brought the school to fruition, she said, their concerns are a school priority, especially since many of the parents also helped renovate the former Baptist church the school is located in.

"We've had a lot of blood and sweat put into the school by parents and volunteers," Collins said.

One such parent and volunteer is Trinette Markey, who co-chairs the lunch committee. She told BW she was proud the new school offers any kind of lunch at all.

"We're the only charter school that I know of that will serve hot meals in their first year of operation," she said.

Current menu items include chow mein, Mexican food and low-fat cheese pizza, but she said the vendors and menus would change throughout the semester. Markey admitted she became involved with the school's lunch committee out of a personal interest.

"That's the main reason that I got involved, after I ate a lunch at my son's (traditional) school," she said. "Here, everything we serve will be fresh and made that day, not out of a can."

Markey said the lunch committee was in a pinch, because the former church did not have a kitchen large enough to prepare meals for a student body. In response, the committee found a way to meet federal nutritional standards by using the kitchen to store milk, fruits and vegetables for supplementing meals made elsewhere.

"We are meeting all the federal guidelines so that we may offer the free and reduced meals," she said. "This was very important to us, because we have some parents who have more than one child to buy lunch for." The free and reduced lunch program is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which dictates the nutritional standards a school must meet with in order to be monetarily reimbursed for such meals. Collins estimated that about 30 percent of her student body qualifies for such funds-just below Idaho's state average of 39.4 percent. Full price lunches will cost $2.25 at Idaho Arts (compared about $1.65 at a traditional school) and reduced lunches will cost $.40.

To qualify for the program, school district officials said lunches must offer students one-third of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calories, protein, calcium, iron and vitamins A and B. Thirty percent of the calories may be from fat, but no more than 10 percent from saturated fat. Additionally, lunches must offer milk, 2 ounces of protein, a half-cup of both fruit and vegetables daily. They also must meet certain grain requirements each week, dependent on the ages of the students served.

"We have worked with our restaurants to meet all of these requirements," Markey said. "It has been really hard."

Mary Jo Marshall, a nutrition specialist for the Idaho Department of Education, said she has assisted the charter school in meeting all USDA requirements. She said final approval is pending upon her review of an official school menu, which she expected to receive soon.

"We will also be compliance monitoring," Marshall said. "We'll be out there to see what they're doing."

Marshall said extensive catering for schools is not very common, but that it has been done in Idaho before. She explained how some smaller schools in Northern Idaho have their lunches delivered after they are prepared at a larger school, while other school districts buy foods from restaurants.

Caroline Morse, a nutrition educator for the Boise Schools District, said she contracts with five to eight pizza restaurants each semester. But she also pointed out that students are only allowed one piece of pizza, which can then be supplemented with milk, fruit and salad.

"We try to show kids it's OK to eat pizza, but that you also need to balance your meal," she said. "We don't call fast food items 'junk food' because they can be fit into a well-balanced diet."

About the school

On Aug 29, the Idaho Arts Charter School opened its doors for the first time to 500 students. Principal Jackie Collins said many of the students live in Nampa, where the school is located, but others travel from Boise, Meridian and Kuna. Each grade of the student body (K through 10) will utilize arts-based instruction.

"Our kids are going to be acting out their multiplication tables and singing out their history lessons," Collins explained.

She said the school was brought into fruition by a group of parents who worked for eight months to draw up a petition, which was then sponsored by the Nampa School Board. The facility is located in a former Baptist church, where students will attend classes for free after donning the required uniform: slacks and a collared shirt

-Mika Belle

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