Pequea Valley is a small, rural school district that encompasses three townships in eastern Lancaster County.

It’s got lots of farms, a few small villages strung along routes 30 and 340, and a massive new Urban Outfitters fulfillment center near Gap.

It’s also got a rapidly growing number of students living near, or below, the poverty line.

In fact, the portion of Pequea Valley’s enrollment defined as “economically disadvantaged” has exactly doubled in 10 years — from one in four students to one in two.

That means that 800 of the district’s 1,600 students now qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Erik Orndorff, the district’s superintendent, believes the actual number is probably higher than the official figure. So Pequea Valley began offering free lunches this year to all students, to make sure no one goes hungry.

“We want our kids to eat,” Orndorff said in a phone interview.

The district also wants its kids to learn, and has adapted and expanded its programs, its teacher training and its partnerships to make sure it is meeting the individual needs of a wide variety of students.

It hasn’t been easy, he said, but the efforts have benefited both students and staff.

“I think we’re all better educators for it,” Orndorff said.

Full story continued: Tim Buckwalter via Lancaster Online, March 6, 2016