School’s out for Portland Public Schools’ students on Friday, June 19, but they can continue learning all summer long through a variety of programs offered by the district and in conjunction with community-based organizations. Students can also get nutritious free meals at various locations throughout the city.

New to the Portland Public Schools’ summer programs this year is a special page on the district’s website, The page can be accessed by clicking on a button on the home page of the site that reads: “Portland Summer Success – Feeding Bodies and Minds.” The page it links to includes such features as lists of programs and events, a student Summer Learning Log and an interactive meal site map. Users can click on locations on the meal site map to learn where and when meals are offered and also what fun learning activities are available at the meal sites.

“Our ‘Portland Summer Success – Feeding Bodies and Minds’ programs are based on the premise that learning for our students shouldn’t stop during the summer. Our goal is to help students succeed by preventing the so-called "summer slide" and keep them learning all summer long,” said Portland Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk. “And just as students’ minds need to be nourished during the summer, so do their bodies. Many of our students depend on the meals provided by our Food Service program during the school year. We recognize that students’ food needs don’t stop just because it’s summer, so another feature of our summer offerings is free, nutritious meals available at 19 locations throughout the city. We also offer games and other enrichment activities for kids.”

Caulk made those remarks in the latest, “summer programs” edition of Let’s Talk Portland, an ongoing Web series in which he interviews guests about initiatives in the Portland Public Schools. In the session, Caulk interviewed Melissa Labbe, the summer program coordinator for the Portland Public Schools; Jennifer Burns, director of the Starting Strong program; and Elizabeth Pratt, the district’s School Health Coordinator and coordinator of CHAMPS, a grant program that provides afterschool and summer meals programs.

The episode can be viewed by clicking on the district’s YouTube page or by clicking here.

Labbe said the summer programs are open to pre-kindergarten through post-graduate high school students. For students in grades K-8, the learning activities will focus on math and literacy. For students in grade 9-12, programs will be offered in such areas as math, science and social studies. She said that new this year also are opportunities for students to earn early credit prior to coming into high school in the areas of health and wellness, geology and astronomy and also to do an independent research project, in which students pick a topic of interest and delve into it for a few weeks over the summer.

Labbe urged K-8 students to take the Summer Learning Pledge that can be found on the website. She also encouraged students to fill out the Summer Learning Log, in which they detail what they learn all summer long both through the summer programs but also in other ways, such as traveling on vacation with their families. Of the students who fill out the log, one student from each of the district’s schools will be selected to have lunch with the superintendent during the summer.

Burns said Starting Strong is part of Portland ConnectED, a community-wide partnership of agencies and organizations that are committed to helping Portland youth succeed from cradle to career. Starting Strong works with young children, focusing primarily on reading, because new readers can lose gains they’ve made if they don’t read over the summer. Starting Strong volunteers will come to the meal sites with books donated by the Rotary Club of Portland Maine and by education publisher Scholastic. Children in the third grade or younger can choose a book to read with a volunteer and then take the book home.

Burns said those willing to volunteer with Starting Strong to read with young children over the summer should contact her at United Way of Greater Portland at (207) 874-1000.

Pratt is coordinator of CHAMPS, which stands for Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs. It is funded by the National League of Cities and its key partners are the Portland Public Schools; the City of Portland Health and Human Services Department; the Maine Hunger Initiative; and Portland ConnectED.

Pratt said even more youngsters under age 18 will be able to get free meals this summer. Last year, meals were offered at 16 sites but this year  the meals are available at 19 locations throughout the city.


U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon will be visiting Deering High School on Friday, June 12, to see firsthand an example of the Portland Public Schools’ food service operation, which is funded, authorized and regulated under the programs in the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service division.

Concannon, whose full title is Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, is scheduled to visit from 10:30 a.m. until noon at the high school, located at 370 Stevens Avenue.

The DHS kitchen illustrates the need for further funding for the nation’s school kitchens. The DHS kitchen was last renovated in the 1990s and has equipment that is more than 25 years old. The equipment is prone to breakdowns and is energy inefficient and faces challenges when it comes to meeting strict new food safety parameters.

After the kitchen tour, Concannon will join a small group of students from the Freshmen Hunger Project to hear about their dynamic project from this spring. During the month of March, DHS freshman students explored the issues of hunger and food security in their math, English, science and social studies classes. Through public service announcements, letters to policy makers, photo voice projects, and other creative learning, they examined such questions as: “Why do hunger and poverty exist?” “What are the challenges we face in dealing with hunger and poverty?” and “What can students do at Deering to improve food security?” Concannon will hear how students plan to address hunger.

He’ll also get to experience how local foods can be an important part of school menus by sharing a Farm Fresh Friday school lunch with students. On the menu are steak sandwiches made from Maine beef, spicy chicken wings and local fruits, vegetables and milk. The Portland Public Schools’ Food Services Department is a leader in using local food in school meal programs and implemented Farm Fresh Friday to feature a local entrée and local fruits and vegetables each week. The district also serves local milk every day.

In the afternoon, Concannon will be meeting with the Cumberland County Food Security Council.


Newsletter Salad Bars
newsletter packaging

Mayor Brennan Launches 
"Choose School Lunch"


“Choose School Lunch” is the name of an exciting new campaign to increase awareness of and increase participation in the Portland Public Schools’ school lunch program. The Portland Public Schools’ Food Services Department has won state and national recognition for its creative approach to school lunch, including incorporating local foods across the lunch tray each week on Farm Fresh Fridays.

To help kick off the start of the “Choose School Lunch” Campaign, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan attended a Farm Fresh Fridays lunch at Lyseth Elementary School on January 30 to eat lunch with students.

The mayor talked to students about his and the city's commitment to supporting local food producers and the connection between fresh, healthy and local foods. Then he went through the serving line, seeing firsthand the types of fresh fruit and vegetables students get to choose from, before joining students for lunch.

“Choose School Lunch” is a collaborative effort between the Portland Public Schools, Cultivating Community, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and FoodCorps, a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders whose goal is to connect children with tasty, healthful food. The campaign focuses on increasing communication with parents and students about recent healthful and delicious changes made to the school lunch program.

Portland Public Schools’ Food Services Department is a leader in using local food in school meal programs. The City of Portland is also a leader in initiatives to improve the health and sustainability of the food systems that support our community, including increasing access to healthier food at schools. To support these initiatives, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan established the Mayor's Initiative for a Healthy and Sustainable Food System in 2012.

Ron Adams, Portland Public Schools’ Food Services Director, is a member of the steering committee for the initiative, and is working hard toward the mayor’s goal of increasing the amount of local foods purchased by Food Services to 50 percent by 2016. In order to meet this ambitious goal, Food Services launched Farm Fresh Fridays this past September. Every Friday throughout the school year, the school lunch entrees and sides come from local sources in Maine and the region.

The Portland Public Schools is now launching its “Choose School Lunch” Campaign to encourage more students and their parents to opt for school lunch.

Parent and student engagement in the school meals program is crucially important to continuing to improve the quality of fresh local food offerings available to Portland Public Schools’ students; the more families that participate in the school lunch program, the more resources and flexibility Food Services has to choose the source of the foods purchased. 


Learn more about "Choose School Lunch" on Facebook.


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