“On the bigger scale citywide, I absolutely see the need for it,” said Ms. Milton. “You notice the difference in children’s attention span and their engagement after lunch when they’ve had a well-balanced meal.”
Ms. Milton said many of the arguments against free lunch are similar to those voiced when the free breakfast program launched in city schools. Since AmPark’s inception in 2011, the school has offered free breakfast. Approximately 120 of its 324 students take part in the program on average each day, with another 25 or so participating in the “grab ‘n go” breakfast the school offers, which provides students who arrive too late for free breakfast with a meal to eat in class.
Candy bar lunches
These meals are imperative to a student’s academic performance, according to Roberta MacIvor, a nutrition coach at Riverdale Country School. She says students with financial burdens often opt for a less nutritional food choice than the healthy choices offered in public schools — a candy bar for example — if it is the cheaper option.
“These foods are filled with calories but they’re filled with stuff that isn’t going to help their energy,” said Ms. MacIvor. “The importance of this lunch being balanced for them and available for them allows them to have a sense of what it is like to have a good meal and the difference in the way they can feel and perform by experiencing that.”
Bronx Engineering and Technology Academy (BETA) sophomore Richard Brisman, 16, said he receives free lunch daily. While he said he did not feel there was a difference between those who receive free lunch and those who do not at BETA, he felt the City Council’s push would benefit many students whose families hover above the border of the income eligibility bracket.
“Me, I’m not rich, so I think it would be better if everything was free,” he said. “I think all public schools should have free lunch.”