MANATEE -- Students in four Manatee County schools will now have the option to eat a healthy dinner before heading home.
Through the dinner program, called the after-school nutrition program, Daughtrey, Rogers Garden, Tillman and Palmetto elementary schools will offer dinner for students in after-school programs at no charge.
Sandra Ford, the district's director of food and nutrition, said these four schools are the first in the district to serve dinner.
"Being able to provide students with supper at the end of their day is so important," Ford said in an email to the Bradenton Herald. "This enables them to worry less about dinner and focus more on learning."
The dinner is served after the regular school day.
Two of the schools with the new dinner program, Daughtrey and Palmetto, have an extra hour of reading instruction added to their days after the schools performed poorly on state reading tests.
The dinner program gives food services the opportunity to aid in education.
"The focus will be on learning, and students won't have to focus on being hungry," Ford said.
Calls to the principals of Daughtrey and Palmetto elementary were not returned Monday.
The after-school nutrition program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Child and Adult Food Program. Ford said any student enrolled in the schools participating can eat for free.
The program started at Daughtrey Elementary during the first week of school. Since then, the program has been added at Rogers Garden and Tillman. The program started Monday at Palmetto Elementary.
Ford said the district is looking to add the after-school dinners at more schools.
"The program is new, so we are taking our time," Ford said. "We are looking to add the program to schools as they express interest."
After-school snack programs are already offered in all elementary schools that have any after-school program, Ford said.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.