A West Fargo school will be giving free lunch to all students starting this fall.
Willow Park Elementary School qualified to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision, an option for qualified schools to offer free breakfast and free lunch to all enrolled students because it is a considered a high-poverty school.
Stephanie Hansen, a public relations specialist for the district, said of the school's 451 students in 2018-19, 70.3 percent qualified for the free and reduced meal program. The school also has 10.7 percent enrolled in special education and 37.1 percent are English learners.
To qualify for the federal program, a school must have at least 40 percent of its population enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program and participate in other specific assistance programs. For example, the 40 percent may be identified by those students directly certified through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and/or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Hansen said in a release. The Community Eligibility Provision program is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which also oversees the national school lunch program.
Willow Park, located at 4901 15th Ave. S. in Fargo, opened in fall 2018 and was built as part of the West Fargo School District's $98.1 building bond that was passed in 2015. The school is home to the district's Welcome Center, a multicultural center for students and staff and is home to at least five English language teachers along with the four Welcome Center teachers.
Willow Park is the first school in the West Fargo District to offer free meals to all of its students. In Fargo, the program is offered at two elementary schools, Jefferson and Madison Elementary.
All Willow Park students, no matter their demographic, will receive free meals while enrolled at the school for this year. The district’s other schools require payment for school meals, but families are encouraged to complete the free and reduced meal application form to determine if they are eligible for reduced-cost, or free, meals for their children.
The application process considers family size, income, benefits and additional forms of assistance.