Arlington school breaks barriers one vending machine meal at a time

Apr 18, 2024, 3:17 PM

Photo: A new vending machine at an Arlington high school is offering students free meals....

A new vending machine at an Arlington high school is offering students free meals. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Dixon-Hundredmark)

(Photo courtesy of Andrea Dixon-Hundredmark)

An Arlington high school has found a way to motivate kids to come to class — free food. Weston High School now offers a vending machine with free breakfast or lunch for students who miss a meal.

Weston is a designated Breakfast After the Bell school, explained Weston High School Principal Andrea Dixon-Hundredmark.

The Breakfast After the Bell program is part of the Washington Kids Ready to Learn Act which was passed in 2018. The law requires public schools with at least 70% of students eligible for free or reduced meals to implement a Breakfast After the Bell Program, according to the Washington Officer of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

Dixon-Hundredmark said since Weston students met the criteria, the staff started brainstorming ways to meet their needs. Director of Child Nutrition Services at Arlington School District, Ed Aylesworth came up with the idea of the vending machine.

“So if breakfast is supposedly your best meal of the day, or most important meal of the day, we have a number of students that aren’t meeting able to get that opportunity,” Aylesoworth explained. “So we were just trying to think of different ways that we could serve those students. And this is one that actually my predecessor had thought about years ago as a vending machine to help but not necessarily in this situation, so I did some research and found this and it’s great.”

Photo: Weston High School students can get a free breakfast from a new vending machine.

Weston High School students can get a free breakfast from a new vending machine. (Photo courtesy of Kristen Satra)

The school then got funding from an iGrant through the Office of System and School Improvement (OSSI). The iGrant at Weston is called the Open Doors Program, which then funded the vending machine, explained Dixon-Hundredmark.

Dixon-Hundredmark said the vending machine has been a hit and they will definitely see more students at school.

“Every single day, it is becoming more and more popular and word is getting out. The cool thing is our hope with the Open Doors Program, specifically, is that we’re going to see those kids on campus more. That’s a drop-in program and they only need a combined total of four hours a month to stay eligible as they’re working towards their diploma,” Dixon-Hundredmark said.

But now knowing that they have the ability, it doesn’t matter. Again, when they arrive, they’ll be able to grab a meal. I saw a lot of faces light up by smiles. I actually had a conversation with a kiddo earlier today who said ‘Why didn’t we have this when I was in school?'” she continued.

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Everything in the vending machine meal meets the nutrition requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program, said Assistant Supervisor of Child Nutrition at Arlington School District Kristen Satra.

Satra explained the first meal is free to students and the second they can purchase.

And as 74% of Weston’s students qualify for free and reduced meals, the vending can motivate students to come to school.

“We know that the vast majority are living with food insecurity. And so knowing that you walk through the door, there is a meal waiting for you. That’s absolutely going to help. And then just the benefits of having a nutritious meal,” Dixon-Hundredmark said.

I mean, we know, we know that kids can’t learn when they’re hungry. We know that behavior is not necessarily also as great when we’re hungry. I mean, that goes for adults as well think about getting angry. So yeah, I mean, it is it’s definitely helping fulfill a big need,” she continued.

Satra explained that at Arlington High School, there is a full commercial kitchen with 10 employees, so at Weston they’re trying to provide students with the same resources.

“Having multiple meals that are in this machine is really wonderful. It allows us to offer some of the same grab-and-go items that we’re serving at our high school to the students. It makes them feel that they’re on equal playing ground. And being a smaller school, that was our ultimate goal aside from obviously for our program,” she said.

Meals from a vending machine at Weston High School. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Dixon-Hundredmark)

Satra said she hopes to see even more options in the future.

“Going forward our hope right now we have sandwiches, we have wraps. We have a starting point of items in this machine. I think my school also serves several salad options. So once we test this machine, see, you know how the food holds, being able to maybe expand some of those options will be something that we will look for in the future to see,” she added.

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But for now, students are enjoying the new vending machine.

“One day I missed the bus and came in late to school and breakfast was already finished so I didn’t get breakfast that day,” said 10th grader Ashton Thorn in a news release from Arlington Public Schools. “With the new vending machine, students are now able to get a breakfast or lunch whenever they need it.”

Julia Dallas is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read her stories here. Follow Julia on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email her here.

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Arlington school breaks barriers one vending machine meal at a time