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Area elementary students grade food policies of schools

2nd June 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Kelly Parker
The Louisiana Weekly Contributing Writer

Elementary school students aren’t the only ones being graded on their performance, as this school year comes to an end.

It’s also report card time for sch­ool food and cafeterias in the New Orleans area.

The second annual report on the state of cafeteria food by Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools (Re­think) was unveiled last week at the Hollygrove Market & Farm.

The ‘Rethinkers’ released the re­port, Sowing Seeds for Better Health: Students Grade New Or­leans Food and Cafeterias to sch­ool administrators, school food provi­ders, family members and the new RSD superintendent John White.

Students gave details of the findings; a joint effort by members of the Rethink Citywide group and Rethinkers from Langston Hughes Academy and Edgar P. Harney Elementary School, which consisted of surveys of nine schools this year; as compared to six in the year prior. (10 percent of the student body, four teachers and the school Principal took part in the surveys)

Rethinkers noted that five of the six schools included in this year’s report had better grades than in the previous year, proving that their message is being heard. This year’s findings also revealed that schools with gardens and food education programs tend to serve more fresh food that is grown locally and prepared from scratch. The same schools also create less waste: serving schools meals with cutlery, plates and trays that can be washed and reused, rather than thrown out; which is beneficial to students, and their communities-both economically and environmentally.

During the press conference, students acknowledged The Preven­tion Research Center at Tulane University’s School of Public Health for providing the tools to conduct the survey reports.

Some of Rethink’s recommendations to schools were to eliminate the use of sporks (the spoon-fork combination) and Styrofoam trays, include outdoor vegetable gardens in school designs, present more local dishes on school menus, and use leftover food to make compost for school gardens.

Among the schools recognized as Rethink “Honor Roll” members were: Arthur Ashe Charter School, whose cafeteria serves a local dish twice per week, earned a B+. (89%) John Dibert Community School scored 73 percent (B). The school maintains a vegetable garden and some of the seafood served is locally harvested.

Ranked most improved was Joseph A. Craig Elementary; who scored a B (83%), as to last year’s score of 55 percent (D-). The RSD School now cooks fresh food prepared on site and a vegetable garden is in the works.

Langston Hughes Academy scored an A. The school consistently provides vegetarian options for breakfast and lunch, has hand washing sinks in the cafeteria and has a bigger vegetable garden than last year.

The school earning an A+ was Samuel J. Green Charter School, whose cafeteria serves a local dish every day and notable progress includes a vegetable garden, garden education classes and a composting system. Green Charter also uses reusable plates, bowls and trays.

This group of school reformers has served as the driving force for change in area elementary schools since 2006.

The Rethinkers are the first public school students in the country (grades K ­­- 12) to set food policy goals for their schools and school food providers. They are also the first public school students to drive a campaign to bring fresh, locally harvested produce to their schools, something typically spear­headed and organized by farmers or school administrators. The group penned Feet to the Fire-The Rethinkers Guide to Chang­ing Your School early this year, and is profiled in HBO’s documentary on childhood obesity, “The Weight of the Nation,” scheduled to air in the spring of 2012. Since its inception in 2006, close to 250 area students have participated in Rethink programs.

On hand for the press conference was ARAMARK Regional Vice President, Barbara Flanagan to share a major announcement.

With the help of Rethink, ARAMARK, the food provider for the Recovery School District, has agreed to provide the district’s 37 schools with fresh local produce, twice a week.

Rethinker Isaiah Simms posed a question to the audience: “How many youth groups do you know of have negotiated a deal with National Corporation and won?”

A large-scale contract was on display and signed by superintendent White, Flanagan and a Rethinker.

“The fact that you all have invited ARAMARK to be a part of this is an extreme compliment and I thank you for that,” Flanagan said.

Rethink founder/director Jane Wholey; spoke on how the organization has helped area students realize their potential. “This is so great for these students,” she said, smiling. “Most of them start out so shy; this does so much for their self-esteem. Think what we could have done as young people, if we had this type of platform.”

“Talking to reporters (back in 2006 at the Rethinkers first press conference) changed my life,” Isaiah Simms said. “I discovered (through Rethink) that I had a voice and that it would be heard. And I’ve been using my voice ever since.”

Look for a report; same time, next year from Rethink.

“We definitely want to keep doing this,” Simms told The Louisiana Weekly. And there is still work to be done: There were three schools that didn’t make the grade this year.

For more information on the Second Annual School Food Report, and other Rethink news and events, visit www.the­rethinkers.com.

This story originally published in the May 30, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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