Donna ISD tops state ranking in providing meals to low-income students

The Donna school district topped the Texas School Food Rankings for providing daily meals to low-income students.

Children At Risk, a nonprofit organization that informs the public on children’s health and education, provided the rankings. The organization analyzed data from the Texas Department of Agriculture to determine and weigh various aspects, according to Jenny Eyer, the organization’s director for Center for Child Health Research and Policy.

Five other school districts from the Rio Grande Valley were also on the organization’s top 10 list.

Meal participation rates and after-school meals available to students are some of the factors to determine the status of school nutrition programs for the rankings, she said.

Donna ISD has about 82% of eligible students participating in school lunch and 80% in breakfast, according to the news release.

Maintaining high numbers for both of these meals set Donna ISD apart from the rest of districts, she said.

The rankings provide “healthy competition” between districts and “highlights” nutrition departments in providing students meals, she said.

Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez said schools implement accessible and quality meals in breakfast, lunch and supper helped achieve the status.

“We always try to take care of our students, and do the best we can, (and try) to be proactive,” he said.

The McAllen school district ranked fourth in the list and also has breakfast integrated into the class schedule. IDEA Academy, Rio Grande City, Weslaco and Brownsville school districts were also among the highest ranking in serving food to low-income students.

“Year after year we find that the Valley has some of the top performing school districts, that they are doing all that they can to feed their students,” Eyer said.

Students spend the majority of their time attending schools and proper nutrition is tied to education, she said.

Rio Grande Valley school districts are making the effort to provide food for students to ensure strong performance in academic and school events, she said. The state has about 2 million food-insecure children, or a population that struggles in getting proper nutrition or have anxiety in providing meals. Behavioral problems and lower attendance are some of the issues with improper nutrition and a lack of food.

“What’s happening there, we need to replicate all across the state, and really recognize the role that schools play in trying to decrease (the) hunger of our kids,” Eyer said.