Nutrition, equality top Hillsboro parents’ complaints
Hillsboro parents were well-versed in two topics at a Pocahontas County Board of Education open forum Monday night—their children’s lunch menus and lack of extra-curricular classes at the county’s smallest school.
Lisa Dennison, the county’s Director of Food Services, said the county is now working with federal guidelines in an effort to reduce childhood obesity and its resultant effects, formerly adult diseases like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Dennison said the school’s new menu structure helps by reducing caloric intake and increasing nutrients by providing fresh vegetables and fruits and reducing grains.
“Educate yourselves first,” Dennison advised parents. And she warned them that the negative comments on social media websites are hurting the school system’s cooks who are now preparing everything from scratch.
She said she wants good feedback from parents about what their children like and what they don’t, but she said she doesn’t think attacking her or the cooks will help solve any issue. Instead, Dennison suggested that parents support the school system’s efforts, encourage their children to try new things and then help develop menus based on both the federal guidelines and what students will eat.
“We have to do what we have to do,” Dennison said. “I will do anything I can to give healthy meals and follow these guidelines.”
The pitfall of students not eating school lunches will only result in less funding and fewer options, she said. Dennison said these guidelines have been in place since 2008, even though Pocahontas County has only now begun to implement them.
But parents were still frustrated.
One said her child has stopped eating at school altogether; another said that his son being hungry was affecting his grades. Yet another said students who stay after school for sports or other activities are hungry without any way to get food until they get home at a later hour.
Dennison said if lunch count numbers rise, then there may be funding for evening meals before after school activities. But, she warned, those meals will still fall into federal guidelines.
She said that fresh fruit is always available for snacks, and she urged parents to provide healthier snacks at home instead of sodas and chips.
“You can’t tell me what to have in my home,” one parent responded.
Dr. Hanna Sizemore said that the people who developed these guidelines thought long and hard about them.
“We can’t change it,” she said. Parents should try to teach their children to try different things, she said.
School lunches are provided at low or no cost, and must meet at least one-third of a child’s daily need for nutrition.
Lisa Dennison may be contacted at email@example.com
Board members also heard from parents about the lack of extra-curricular classes at Hillsboro—a circumstance that plays into some parents sending their children to Marlinton Middle School a year early.
Board president Emery Grimes noted that the board had worked diligently to get School Building Authority funds to construct a cafeteria between the school and the gymnasium so that students do not have to go outside for lunch. That hasn’t helped reduce the migration.
“We need to know why fifth graders are moving,” Grimes said, noting that if the student population drops below a certain point, the SBA can require repayment of the funds.
The answer boiled down to music, art and foreign language opportunities at MMS. One parent said that it was a hard decision to leave her child at Hillsboro where she would not have the same opportunities as a Marlinton student.
And the response to that boiled down to numbers.
“We’re paying for a teacher for five students,” Grimes said.
Parents argued that all schools should have the same opportunities for students regardless of numbers.
In a classic Catch-22, one parent said if more extra-curricular classes were offered, the school may attract more students.
In particular, parents wanted the band instructor from MMS, who also teaches music at Marlinton Elementary School, to travel to Hillsboro.
While that might be a short-term solution, one parent and board of education employee remarked that taking away something from somewhere else will eventually hurt Hillsboro students who will end up at Marlinton Middle School anyway.
“The pot is getting smaller every year,” said Joanna Burt-Kinderman. “Maybe we should think about a small levy. The truth of the matter is if we’re not willing to pay for some of these things we just can’t continue to have and have and have.”
Burt-Kinderman acknowledged that the idea might not be popular with either parents or board members, and clearly was not as Grimes began to disagree with the idea while she was speaking. The two talked in tandem for several seconds.
She was able to make the point that teachers make more money in other counties, which makes those counties better able to attract teachers.
Sizemore said she thought the board could try discussing the idea of a levy.
“We all agree with making things equitable,” she said. “A small levy would bring Hillsboro up instead of [depleting] everyone else. Having choice often means huge disparities.”
Grimes said he believed the board should try finding grants.
The board of education meets again in regular session Monday, September 24, at 7 p.m. in the board conference room in Marlinton.
Pamela Pritt may be contacted at pepritt@pocahontas times.com