lunch break

City Council members call on city to make school food healthier

Chancellor Dennis Walcott with students in the garden at Brooklyn's P.S. 295, which is participating in the "Garden to Cafe" program, on the first day of school.

The Department of Education has done an admirable job of adding more healthy school lunch options. But more changes — and faster ones — are needed to keep children healthy, according to two City Council members who are sponsoring a resolution to improve school food.

In the last few years, the Office of SchoolFood has added more vegetarian options and swapped out some ingredients for healthier alternatives.

But Brad Lander and Gale Brewer, City Council members from Park Slope and the Upper West Side, think more could be done. “Despite these improvements, critics note that school meals still contain too many “processed” food items, such as breaded chicken nuggets, as well as foods that contain less healthy ingredients, including high fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring and saturated fats, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” says their resolution, which they are formally proposing today.

Lander and Brewer want the city to adopt recommendations made recently by the Brooklyn Food Coalition, a group of food and food justice organizations. Among other things, they want 10 percent of food served in schools to be produced locally and schools to go meatless at least one day a week.

They also want the city to be required to publish ingredient lists for food served in schools — something that the department has not always done. When nutrition facts were inadvertently published in 2010, they showed that some food served in cafeterias did not meet the city’s own nutrition guidelines for school bake sale snacks.

Lander and Brewer’s resolution is below, followed by the Brooklyn Food Coalition’s “Roadmap for Healthy, Sustainable School Food.”

Resolution calling upon the New York City Department of Education’s Office of School Food to increase the health of food options in school lunches and breakfasts by implementing the recommendations of the Brooklyn Food Coalition’s “Roadmap for Healthy, Sustainable School Food.”

By Council Members Lander and Brewer

Whereas, The New York City Department of Education (DOE) is the largest public school system in the United States serving approximately 1.1 million students; and

Whereas, DOE’s Office of School Food, known as “SchoolFood,” is the largest school food service provider in the United States, providing over 860,000 total meals each day to students in over 1,600 locations including City public elementary, middle, special education, high schools, charter and some non-public schools; and

Whereas, In recent years, SchoolFood has taken a number of steps to improve the health and nutrition of school meals and to expand access to more students; and

Whereas, SchoolFood serves breakfast free of charge to all students and has instituted breakfast-in-the-classroom programs in 271 schools; and

Whereas, In 2004, SchoolFood hired an executive chef to introduce new recipes and to reformulate popular menu items to make them healthier and more enticing to students; and

Whereas, DOE has also made significant investments in kitchen and cafeteria infrastructure in recent years, including the installation of more than 600 salad bars in schools throughout the City; and

Whereas, Additionally, SchoolFood has piloted several programs, such as the State-funded Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, in a small number of City schools; and

Whereas, Another initiative, “Garden to Café” was started by SchoolFood and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets in collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension, GreenThumb, and more than 20 community-based organizations; and

Whereas, The goals of “Garden to Café” are to promote vegetarian options, connect students to local food and farming, increase awareness of school gardening, and provide opportunities to integrate school gardening and school lunch; and

Whereas, According to the DOE, SchoolFood has also reduced sodium, fat and cholesterol content in meals served; and

Whereas, In addition, SchoolFood has replaced white flour pasta with whole grain pasta, replaced whole milk with fat free and low fat milk varieties and has included more fresh fruits and vegetables in school meals; and

Whereas, Despite these improvements, critics note that school meals still contain too many “processed” food items, such as breaded chicken nuggets, as well as foods that contain less healthy ingredients, including high fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring and saturated fats, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; and,

Whereas, In December 2010, a new federal law, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (“the Act”), was passed which would improve the nutrition of school meals; and

Whereas, Among other things, the Act provides additional funding to schools that meet updated nutritional standards for federally-subsidized lunches, helps communities establish local farm to school networks and builds on efforts by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve the nutritional quality of commodity foods that schools receive from USDA and use in their breakfast and lunch programs; and

Whereas, A number of the Act’s provisions, such as the development of new nutritional standards and the increase in federal meal reimbursement, will not go into effect before the 2012-2013 school year at the earliest; and

Whereas, New York City’s 1.1 million public school students should not have to wait for those federal changes to take effect before having access to healthier food options in school meals; and

Whereas, The Brooklyn Food Coalition recently issued its “Roadmap for Healthy, Sustainable School Food;” and

Whereas, The Roadmap calls for progressive measures to increase the local sourcing of school food, such as purchasing 10 percent of food locally, expansion of the “Garden to Café” program, and increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables for snacks; and

Whereas, The Roadmap calls for improving the wholesomeness of foods served by improving access to salad bars, offering at least one fresh fruit daily, ensuring that vegetables served are fresh and that 60 percent of meals offered are from unprocessed ingredients, offering only whole grain products, ensuring access to pure water and eliminating sweetened milk, and adopting meatless meals at least once a week; and

Whereas, The Roadmap calls for integrating this food program into school curricula and building on the work of existing school wellness committees to help guide this initiative and make it work in each participating school; and

Whereas, The Roadmap also calls for reducing the food and packaging waste stream through more effective recycling, composting, and by working towards the elimination of polystyrene foam trays; and

Whereas, The Roadmap calls for mandating public access to ingredient lists and items purchased; and

Whereas, The Roadmap calls for removing vending machines and all “competitive” foods in elementary and middle schools, and for providing only healthy choices in any vending machines in high schools; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Council of the City of New York calls upon the New York City Department of Education’s Office of School Food to increase the health of food options in school lunches and breakfasts by implementing the recommendations of the Brooklyn Food Coalition’s “Roadmap for Healthy, Sustainable School Food.”

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.