Around five weeks ago the Las Animas School District started a backpack food program with the goal of improving the nutrition of their students.

The program has only been in action for a couple of weeks but the preparation behind the formation of the program reaches all the way back to 2016. Which is when the school district partnered with the Center for Rural School Health and Education to access funding from The Colorado Health Foundation to create a health and wellness plan.

They finally received the funding in 2018 and began the process of creating the program which would go on to become the backpack food program. One of the first things they did after receiving the funding was creating a task force of 18 individuals who would review many different sets of data.

The data reviewed was pulled from surveys given to students, staff members, parents and the community. They also reviewed an assessment made by Bent County Public Health, coming to the conclusion that access to nutrition was a large concern for their students.

Wellness grant coordinator Ronda Bucholz said that the students who will be able to participate in this program are chosen by the school staff.

“The staff identify and sign up the students by using signs of hunger that include food obsession, stating they are hungry, attendance, behavior and others,” Bucholz said.

They will also be asked to evaluate the students' grades, attention, involvement and attitude in classes during each grading period. Once the staff have identified a student who exhibits those signs the parent of said student would be notified and asked to opt into the backpack food program.

“The foods in the pack are cereal, canned meals, vegetable cups and fruit cups, milk, meat stick, granola bar, box of macaroni and cheese, sunflower seeds,” she said.

After being placed in the program the students will be asked how they feel when they received their backpack food program pack for the weekend. Some of the questions they will be asked are whether they are thankful, excited, embarrassed, happy, relieved or don't care about receiving the pack. They will also be asked to answer questions such as is it easier to focus and is it easier to learn with a rating of one to five.

Parents of students in the program will also be sent questions asking them to rate from one to five how easy is it to participate and does it help my child eat more nutritious food.

The food program packages are in cases of 10 and are prepackaged using the Bent County Correctional Facility. This allows them to save money on shipping which means the two day packs cost the school district under $4 per pack. They have also received a new two year grant from the Colorado Health Foundation which will partially cover funding for the program.

jconlan@ljtdmail.com