The Boston Public School system is home to many firsts in the nation: the first public school (Boston Latin, 1635), first public elementary school (Mather Elementary School, 1639), first public-school system (1647), first public high school (English High School, 1821), first public day school for the deaf (Horace Mann School for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing 1869). Currently there are 125 schools and 56,000 students in the BPS system. Boston’s school system is one of the most diverse systems in the country, with students coming from over 139 countries and 1 in every 2 students speak a different language at home.
Although the city has been a pioneer for the nation’s public-school system, today many families and children face the difficulties of living with financial hardships. Massachusetts is ranked 10th in the nation for having the highest level of poverty, while the city of Boston is ranked 7th for the highest rate of income disparity. More half of the students live on or below the poverty line and 1 in 8 children struggle with hunger and/or food insecurity. Food insecurity is a lack of access to sufficient food to lead active, healthy lives because of insufficient resources. Child food insecurity is noted as the most severe level of food insecurity. Many families depend on the school lunch system to provide their children with at least one healthy and nutritious meal 5x a week.
Children’s Health Watch research has shown that when Boston families are food insecure, their children are twice as likely to be in fair or poor health and twice as likely to be at risk for developmental delays.
Students from families with a household income of less than 133% of the federal poverty level qualify for free meals; students from families with a household income between 133% and 185% of the federal poverty level qualify for reduced price meals. Eligibility is often decided through application forms that are submitted by parents. In recent years, school districts have been able to establish eligibility for some students based on their families’ participation in other social support programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps”).
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 outlined that, ”if a school, group of schools, or district could identify at least 40% of its students as eligible for free meals, then it could elect to provide free meals to all of its students, without the need to verify every individual student’s eligibility. This new program, known as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), offers many benefits to participating schools: it eliminates the need to collect and process paper applications, it eliminates the need to collect and account for lunch money, it speeds up cafeteria service, and most importantly, it has been shown to significantly increase student participation in the school breakfast and school lunch programs.”