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CALCASIEU PARISH, LA (KPLC) -
A teacher in Calcasieu Parish got involved with the school lunch menu planning process after seeing the new school lunch changes and the impact on the students.
Heather Koonce is a 7th grade American History teacher at Moss Bluff Middle School. She wrote a letter to the Calcasieu Parish School Board, asking what was going on and what she could do to help with this lunch issue.
"It was concerning because at the end of the days in middle school, I had kids who were starving, hungry and you know it kind of piqued my interest and kind of started investigating what was going on," Koonce said.
Her concerns led to her participation in meal planning for the spring of 2013. She met with a group of Food Services employees to decide which meals will be served to students at each grade level.
And even though Koonce said she feels better meals should be served in the school cafeterias, the issue goes even farther.
"The education reform that's going on now, the disappointing thing is 50 percent of our evaluation is based on how kids score in four days of testing and if they're hungry, the concern is they're not learning to their full potential," Koonce said. "And if they're not learning to their full potential, they're not going to test to their full potential. They're not getting the knowledge and you know it's very disheartening."
And the new nutritional guidelines have presented new challenges.
"It's strange, the menus they might not look planned, but you may have pizza and steamed cabbage all on one day because we're locked into those vegetables," Food Service Director for CPSB Patricia Hosemann said.
Hosemann said the schools in Calcasieu are in compliance with the new regulations by serving a bigger variety of fruits and vegetables, and more of them.
These requirements come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which ends up paying part of the cost.
"Currently, in this parish, our at cost price is around $4, which means every child, every free, reduced and paying child would be paying $4 if they got off the national school lunch breakfast program. Calcasieu Parish cannot afford that," Hosemann said.
As the school systems work to balance healthy eating and education, while paying for it at the same time, educators like Heather Koonce are taking the transition, and all of its challenges, and adding it to the lesson plans.
"We've used that as a teachable moment to discuss federal guidelines and how they affect states and citizens," Koonce said. "I think the most important thing is to realize it's not our people on the local level who are making these decisions and they're just doing their job and abiding by the rules just like everyone else."
Hosemann said with the guidelines, the USDA cut the maximum calorie count so low, it's hard for cafeterias to squeeze in anything extra.
On Friday, PART THREE of the food lunch series will air on Nightcast bringing reaction from students along with the different portion sizes at each grade level.