Canyon ISD offers hope, aid with extended Seamless Summer Option


Laura Gill

Canyon ISD is offering free meals to all students to help financially aid families who might have been affected by COVID-19. “When you budget for a household family, food is one of the largest areas that monthly income is allocated towards,” Alicia Lohberger, Lakeview Elementary School Counselor, said. “Free breakfast and lunches being provided for students each week has to be giving many families back some budget for other areas of spending needed for their children. Parents who feel less stressed about money are automatically going to be less stressed towards their children, resulting in less stressed students in our schools.”

Canyon ISD implemented the Seamless Summer Option program through the 2021-2022 school year, after the United States Department of Agriculture announced an extension of funds to allow schools to serve free meals to students.

Chartwells partners with 665 school districts throughout the nation to bring nutritious meals to school cafeterias. Canyon ISD has been partnering with Chartwells since July 2020 to provide cost-effective, nutritious meals to students across district campuses. The SSO program allows Chartwells and the school district to provide relief to families that might have been impacted financially because of COVID-19. Chartwells Resident District Manager, Mike Schnitger said the SSO program is a small way to provide hope to Canyon ISD families.

“It was a great opportunity to allow the students and parents of the Canyon community to be reintroduced into the care of the cafeteria, and hopefully appreciate some of the changes that have been made in how our staff works,” Chartwells Resident District Manager, Mike Schnitger said. “It has given families the opportunity to not worry about food insecurities. There are students that, throughout the day, may or may not have expected to get hungry, or they have food insecurity issues, and this allows them to have a meal and not be distracted because they are hungry. It allows them to actually concentrate on school and to learn.”

This year, Canyon ISD has served over 6,000 lunches and 1,800 breakfasts daily.

We have seen a significant increase in the amount of meals-lunch and breakfast-served to students,” Schnitger said. “It reduces the burden on the parents of preparing the meals or making sure that the student has breakfast and lunch before they go out the door to school. It makes that morning time or even the evening time a little less hectic. It is one less thing that parents have to worry about.”

It reduces the burden on the parents of preparing the meals or making sure that the student has breakfast and lunch before they go out the door to school.

— Mike Schnitger, Chartwells Resident District Manager

Cafeteria staff throughout the district are producing more meals for students than in years past. Schnitger said they stay motivated by aiming to be a smiling face during a student’s school day.

“They are having to produce more meals, but they are all very much appreciative of the opportunity to serve the students of Canyon schools,” Schnitger said. “When COVID started and everyone went virtual, our staff continued producing meals, and they did it at remote sites and did delivery in conjunction with transportation. When everybody else was at home safe, our staff was still out working, making sure that households that needed meals because of a loss of meal eligibility were still able to get it during their structured virtual learning day. I remember a parent expressed how it allowed that student to still feel they were part of something happening because that meal came as part of their structured learning day.”

Canyon High School cafeteria manager, Lisa Martinez, said she hopes students continue to eat at school even when the meals are no longer free.

We have seen a lot of students come that never ate,” Martinez said. “A lot of students did not come in because they had to pay, now everybody’s meal is free. I think it is a good benefit for everyone.”

Athletes on campus are benefitting from the free meals on a daily basis. Throughout the day student athletes can grab breakfast and snacks provided by the cafeteria in the field house.

We now have to feed the athletic program,” Martinez said. “We see and feed an extra 200 for breakfast for the athletic program. That is a little more for my ladies to prepare, but it is kind of nice because they enjoy letting those students eat that did not eat before.”

Martinez said she hopes the school district can continue to benefit more students through the SSO program.

“I just think it is a blessing,” Martinez said. “In the 16 years that I have worked here last year and this year have been a blessing for a lot of students.”

33% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch district-wide. Lakeview Elementary students are specifically benefitting from the free meals with around 250 students getting meals each day.

I hope putting a spotlight on the benefits of free meals is another simple reminder for all of us to look around and notice how we can give hope to someone else in our small corner of the world.

— Alicia Lohberger, Lakeview Elementary School Counselor

“As a school counselor, working with parents is a very important part of how I help my students,” Alicia Lohberger, Lakeview Elementary School Counselor, said. “Reassuring and reminding parents that their childrens’ meals will be paid for is sometimes a great avenue for entering into problem-solving conversations with parents who are having a hard time financially. If I can reassure and help parents, then students usually directly benefit.”

Lohberger said without the free meals students would show decreased attention in the classroom and increased anxiety.

Free meals for our students means less stress for parents, which means less stress for students,” Lohberger said “Less stress in the home produces more well-rounded and happy kiddos. We want our students to be able to come to school and look forward to school every day.  When they are well-rested and well-fed, two of the biggest obstacles to learning and well-being were just overcome.”

Lohberger said COVID-19 has brought many challenges to households around the nation and by simply offering meals for free the school district is able to relieve some stress families are experiencing.

“Hope is one of the things educators are learning more about this year,” Lohberger said “Providing help to those in need is a direct link to watching hope in action. We have heard before that serving others is something everyone should do as they take part in society.  I hope putting a spotlight on the benefits of free meals is another simple reminder for all of us to look around and notice how we can give hope to someone else in our small corner of the world.”