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Winlock announces grants for free meals and after-school programs

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The Winlock School Board has announced two new grand-funded programs, which stand to significantly increase the level of services provided to students.

Discussed during the Aug. 20 meeting of the District Board, Superintendent Shannon Criss reported the district has recently acquired two federal grants, with one providing free meals to all students and another allowing free after-school programs for elementary and middle school children.

"Not only do we have good staff and people who care about kids," said Criss, "we can, in essence, care for the whole child from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m."

The first grant, which will allow all students attending K-12 programs access to free breakfast and lunch, came from the Community Eligibility Program for Student Meals, which Criss explained has been made available in other states but only just became available in Washington this year.

"I usually am not a let's-go-first person," said Criss. "I want to follow and see how others do."

But Winlock, she continued, was contacted earlier this year by Washington's Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and encouraged to apply for the program, given the high percentage of its students qualifying for free and reduced meals (80 percent at the grade school and 67 percent at the middle and high schools).

Criss said OSPI then began working with Winlock to clarify the details and expectations of the program, explaining they could opt out freely if the district felt it was not right for them. One possible challenge she said could arise would be, if Winlock purchased more food than it served to students, they would not be reimbursed for the remaining food. But she told the board she feels OSPI has satisfied many of her concerns about such challenges, and the board voted to opt into the program that night.

"It takes away--particularly at the middle school and high school--it takes away the stigma of the free and reduced [meals]," said Criss, explaining many students who may have been to embarrassed to ask for help under the current system will not longer stand out.

She added applications for the free and reduced meals will no longer be required, while parents will be asked to fill out income surveys instead so Winlock may continue to qualify for various Title I programs.

The second grant allows Winlock to plan and implement their own after-school activities for students in the elementary school and middle school, both academic and extra-curricular.

Made possible through a 21st Century Grant, Criss said she has been searching for a way to implement such programs since her career began at Winlock, and this opportunity became available with help from the Centralia School District.

"Centralia is the only one in the region that has it," she said of the grant. "Theirs was expiring, so we piggybacked with them and we got notice Monday [Aug. 18] we've been approved."

Criss explained the grant allows Winlock to offer after-school activities between 3 and 6 p.m. throughout the school year, with the district determining what types of programs they would like to see. She said, if there was an interest among students in dance, theater, photography, art or other subjects, on top of opportunities to work with tutors, it would be Winlock's discretion to establish such programs, while the grant would fund the staff needed to implement them.

"It is more than just academics," she said, adding the community can feel free to provide input as far as what after-school programs they would like to see.

The new after-school programs are expected to be implemented by this October, said Criss, while free meals will begin at the start of this school year. The after-school grant is expected to last through 2020, while the free meals are expected to last through 2019.

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