Jackson Public Schools students are dining with dignitaries all week for National School Lunch Week

JACKSON, MI – It’s a rare occasion for 8-year-old Alaysia Johnson to get to suggest what an adult has for lunch.

It’s even rarer when that adult is Jackson Police Chief Matt Heins.

“I told him he should have some carrots,” said Alaysia, a third-grader at Jackson’s McCulloch Academy of Science and Technology. “They’re good.”

Heins and Jackson Mayor Martin Griffin visited McCulloch on Tuesday for “Chomp With Champions,” a celebration of National School Lunch Week.

Leaders of JPS’ food service program have invited local dignitaries to share lunch with students at all of the district’s schools throughout this week. Besides Heins and Griffin, those participating include Deputy Fire Chief David Wooden and Jackson School Board members Sheila Patterson, Tim Levy and Bob Inman.

“A lot of kids are eating their fruits and vegetables,” Heins said. “It’s important for schools to offer them. This is also a great way to connect with the kids. This is one of the aspects of my job that I really enjoy.”

New federal guidelines require that school lunches this year have more whole grains, less sodium and more fruits and vegetables to help foster good nutrition and combat childhood obesity.

“This is a good way for people in the community to see what school lunches are all about and to see our fruit and veggie bars,” said JPS Food Service Director Brant Russell. “It’s also good to expose our students to people in the community who are successful and let them just have lunch together.”

The McCulloch students just thought it was fun.

“I like it,” said 8-year-old third-grader Ahnya Gibson. “It’s especially fun to eat lunch with people who help protect us.”

Students have been excited for days to welcome their visitors, said McCulloch Principal Frances Reeves.

“They love to have people from the community come and eat lunch with them or read to them,” Reeves said. “It really means a lot.”

About 72 percent of JPS students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, and the district provides free lunches for all students at several of its buildings because of the high need. Griffin and Heins agree this is important.

“If you come here and see this, you will see how important it is,” Griffin said. “If they didn’t do this, so many kids wouldn’t get at least two square meals a day.”