Mae Stevens Early Learning Academy Pre-K 4 student Easton Rodriguez enjoys a fresh orange slice during free breakfast provided due to new USDA eligibility requirements.

Studies show that students who do not have a healthy meal to start the day lose focus on their academics due to interruptions from hunger pains. New regulations from the USDA eliminates this challenge for Pre-K students across the nation.

Meals for students at CCISD’s Mae Stevens Early Learning Academy are completely free. Melissa Bryan, CCISD Director of Child Nutrition, said the USDA approved automatic free eligibility for all students attending state-funded prekindergarten programs operated under the administration of the Texas Education Agency Early Childhood Program.

Already, Mae Stevens students get their meal trays in a fun, attractive setting that looks like a school bus. Bryan says the school is also in the process of ordering some smaller size trays that will be easier for students to carry. Students’ dietary requirements are also a top priority.

“We have around 40 kids with allergies that we are monitoring each time we prepare meals and we prepared a couple modified menus where we had to work and plan an entirely different menu plan based on the dietary needs of the student,” Bryan said.

The young scholars eagerly eat the nutritious meals which on a specific day included meatloaf, mashed potatoes, oranges and milk. The eyes of 4-year old Elijah Moser opened wide with excitement as he described what he ate.

“The oranges tasted sour and sweet! The meatloaf tasted like sauce,” Moser said.

“It was so good and so yummy,” chimed in fellow classmate, 4-year old Natalia Torres.

Manager Gabi Bradford and her team have added a lot more scratch cooking and casserole items to the menu. Items such as tater tot casserole, tamale pie, and homemade lasagna have been making their way on to the serving line.

“We work hard to try and give the students different taste experiences,” Bryan said. “I want each child that eats a meal at school to not just have a healthy, well- balanced meal but to also enjoy the entire experience of eating at school no matter if it is Breakfast in the Classroom for the morning students or eating lunch in the cafeteria for the afternoon students.”

For Mae Stevens teachers and paraprofessionals, they are grateful to know the can focus students on their lessons without competing with hunger.

“Maslow’s hierarchy states that children’s basic needs have to be met,” dual language teacher Maxine Sanchez said. “Now, we don’t have to assume whether or not they’ve eaten at home, and we can be definitively sure that they are nourished, enabling them to focus.”

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