Elizabeth Moulton
Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

AGAWAM — Elizabeth Moulton, the school district’s food services director, gave her annual report to the School Committee at its final meeting of the 2023-24 school year, providing the committee with an update on what’s happened in the schools during the past year.

Moulton told the committee at its June 25 meeting that there have been “big increases” in the number of students eating breakfast at schools. She said that in September 2019, 2,717 students were served breakfast. That number increased to 10,424 in September 2023 and went up by more than 3,000 in April 2024, when a total of 13,907 students participated in the breakfast program.

One of the reasons for the increased participation is that some elementary students don’t have to go to the cafeteria for their morning meal. Moulton said Clark School is continuing to use its “Breakfast in the Classroom” model.

“They’re serving 90% of their students breakfast every single day — which is just incredible,” she said.
At Phelps and Granger schools, Moulton said there is a “mixed” model for breakfast.

“Some students come down to the cafeteria in the morning to get breakfast and then take it to their classrooms. So, we’re working with each school to figure out what’s the best way to get breakfast to our students,” Moulton said.

During the next school year, the food services department plans to “dig deep” to determine where breakfast can be offered in different places.

While breakfast at the elementary schools appears to be a success, participation at the high school is still a challenge, according to Moulton. When she started as food services director four years ago, the high school was serving 20 or 30 breakfasts a day. Now it’s almost 200.

The number of free lunches served to students also has increased substantially since September 2019, when 31,970 students received a free lunch, By April 2024, 37,165 students were being served lunch.

Moulton said she also did a time study during the past school year to see how much time students at the high school have to eat lunch.

“It’s not a lot,” she said. “There are a lot of reasons for that.”

One of the changes that was recently made at Agawam High School to help alleviate long meal lines was to move the serving line out of the kitchen and into the cafeteria. But since the high school serves almost 800 students at lunch every day, another line will be opening in September in a separate part of the cafeteria.

“It will be more of a grab-and-go style, so that we can kind of capture the kids who don’t want to wait in those long lines,” said Moulton.

She said the serving line at Agawam Junior High School is also “super long.” So instead of having two lines with all the options, next school year there will be two main meal lines, with a third serving line offering bagel sandwiches and salads. The snack line will also open earlier.

At the elementary schools, one of the causes for the long lines is the lack of ID cards, which requires every student to be checked off a list at the end.

“So, we’re bringing ID cards back next year for lunches,” said Moulton.

She told the committee that all elementary food service managers have met with principals at their school twice and submitted written plans so they know exactly what it will look like.

Moulton also explained to the committee that the food services department was awarded a $22,000 grant recently from Northeast Food for Schools. It allowed food services to purchase minimally processed foods.

“We were getting all of our lettuce from Wellspring Harvest in Indian Orchard, which is all hydroponically grown,” said Moulton. “We saved a ton of time in the cafeterias at the high school kitchen. The kids love it.”
She said there is some money left from the grant, which was extended to the next school year: “We’re looking at how we implement that to have a little bit more local produce in our schools.”

Mouton said that in addition to buying new milk coolers at Phelps and Sapelli schools, two new reach-in freezers were purchased for Sapelli and one for AJHS. New equipment at Clark included a steamer, range, warmer and double oven.

At the end of her report, in response to a question from Vice Chair Shelley Borgatti-Reed, Moulton said Doering School only has space for two meal lines.

“They’re offering salads as an additional item already,” said Moulton. “They have a long line, but it’s not as long as other schools.”

Agawam provides free meals to all students — one free meal per meal service period — but charges for additional meals or a la carte items.