With so many components of New Orleans public schools open for change and improvement in the ongoing Katrina recovery, a group of students is bringing one more issue to the table: their lunch.
“Food represents love,” says middle school student Alisia Hall. “Unfortunately, we do not feel the same love in school that we do at home. In fact, we feel neglected and at times abandoned. Some of our food is unidentifiable, under-cooked and frozen.”
Hall is a member of a student group called Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools, or Rethink, which draws children from a cross section of the city’s public schools to find solutions to shared problems.
Over the summer, the students and their advisors hosted an event to bring attention to the plight of school lunch. Using a series of skits and presentations, they shared their frustration with sub-par meals, processed foods and the hated “spork,” the disposable hybrid utensil ubiquitous in local school lunchrooms.
Invoking the benefits to their own health, the environment and the local economy, they urged school leaders to purchase more fresh food from local producers. They also pushed for a new look at cafeteria design, with pleas as simple as adding sinks so students can wash their hands before eating or buying reusable plates and trays to cut down on the amount of Styrofoam being discarded.
“Design cafeterias that you adults would like to eat in yourselves,” says Rethinker Lynisha Jordan.
At the news conference, Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas lauded the Rethinkers for their work and later met with Rethink organizers to discuss putting some of the recommendations into action. Vallas was so impressed by the program he said all middle schools in the district should start Rethink chapters.
Rethink got its start in 2006, when students and their families began returning to New Orleans with new perspectives and expectations for public education. Many had experienced far better public school environments during their time away than they had imagined possible in New Orleans’ dysfunctional pre-storm education system. Rethink emerged as a way for students to lend their voices to the task of improving the local schools and building them back better.
The Rethinkers recently scored a policy victory when their earlier recommendations for designing cleaner, safer and more environmentally sensitive school lavatories were included in the city’s Public School Master Plan.
For more information, visitwww.therethinkers.org.