Cafeteria Culture/Styrofoam Out of Schools has a kickstarter campaign to get their No-Styro Puppets fully funded and out onto the streets in time for Earth Day 2012. This campaign ends Monday, April 23 at 12pm, so please don’t delay.
This is a fabulous opportunity for Cafeteria Culture (CaCu)/SOSnyc to get the media attention they need to kickstart their Arts+Advocacy Campaign and heighten public awareness of the 3 BILLION styrofoam trays that NYC public schools have thrown away over the last 20 years.
CafCu, founded in 2009 as Styrofoam Out of Schools, catalyzed the remarkable launch of Trayless Tuesdays throughout all NYC public schools within one’s year time through an innovative partnership with the Department of Education SchoolFood and the Parsons School of Design. Since then, an impressive 40 million styrofoam trays have been eliminated from production, school lunches, incinerators and landfills at no additional cost to the city.
Donate and help CafCu/SOSnyc eliminate the remaining 3.5 million styrofoam trays used per week in NYC schools. Your donation will enable CafCu/SOSnyc to build their No-Styro puppets and get a piece of the Earth Day media attention that these toxic, landfill busting styrofoam trays deserve.
NYC Green Schools has written extensively about improving the food served in our schools, but what if your school doesn’t have a fully equipped kitchen, which is the case for most New York City schools? What do you do then? We decided to ask Helen Martineau, a parent serving on the Wellness Committee at The Neighborhood School in the East Village, what steps they’ve taken to improve school lunch, despite not having a stovetop and exhaust system. We hope their resourcefulness is as inspiring to you as it was to us.
WHEN YOUR SCHOOL DOESN’T HAVE THE LUXURY OF A FULLY WORKING KITCHEN
by Helen Martineau
In the cafeteria kitchen of the Neighborhood School and P.S. 63, our ansul system, which is a fire suppression system typically found in restaurants and food-service kitchens, broke more than ten years ago—so long ago that no one who presently works in the cafeteria remembers a time when the kitchen staff was able to actually cook. In the meantime, the remnants of our ansul system and our exhaust system have become so obsolete that fixing them is a massive job.
The first step in undertaking the huge task of getting a working kitchen is having a feasibility study done. The DOE is presently giving priority to problems that pose a danger to students, so they weren’t likely to pay for our study ($35,000!) any time soon. We applied for and received public money from the City Council for the study. Next, we have to try and get our kitchen on the DOE’s Five-Year Capital Plan. Again, updating our cafeteria to a working kitchen is a low-priority project for them. It didn’t make it onto their current plan, which would take us to the year 2014, and there’s no guarantee that it will make it onto their next one either, especially with the budget cuts we’re seeing.
We are working on a request to the City Council for money for our new kitchen in an attempt to speed up the process, but even if that funding comes through, we’ll still have to rely on the School Construction Authority to do the work, and they are notorious for working at a glacial pace. So who knows when, if ever, our schools will have a full, working kitchen.
In the meantime, we have explored other options to facilitate cooking in our kitchen. One of the families in our school owns a restaurant (Ciao for Now), and they have an induction burner, which doesn’t require an ansul or exhaust system. We repeatedly tried to get permission from the DOE’s Office of School Food to purchase one (it costs $2,500, which we planned on financing ourselves somehow), but were denied. We were told that the fire department determined that an ansul system was needed with an induction burner, even though restaurants all over the city use them without ansul systems. My hope is that parents around the city will start making enough noise about induction burners so that the city will finally relent. It seems like such a simple and cheap solution. We are also looking into getting a giant rice cooker, which would have to be vetted by SchoolFood as well.
Our cook, Jackie, does an amazing job of making do with what she has: a double convection oven and a steamer. The DOE gave our schools the steamer as a workaround implement for the stovetop (an option for other schools without stovetops). On the outside the steamer looks like an oven, with a door that opens on the front. Inside is a pan that you fill with water, which creates the steam. Jackie can actually cook pasta in the steamer, as well as rice and vegetables. When she makes sauces, she roasts onions and garlic in oil in the oven before adding tomatoes and spices. That’s her method for cooking Cuban black beans and just about anything saucy. But that’s about it. We can’t have soup, for instance, or anything else that would require boiling.
Our SchoolFood partnership meetings are currently about tweaking the menu and trying to be creative with what we have.
We enjoy Meatless Mondays, although we don’t officially call it that. For our meat-free Mondays, we mostly work within the existing SchoolFood repertoire: pasta, toasted cheese sandwiches, and lasagna roll-ups, while also serving lots of rice and beans, vegetarian chili, vegetable egg rolls, and even a little tofu (even though the USDA does not recognize tofu as either a protein or a vegetable, so it goes into our bean stew).
As for other changes we’ve made, we have eliminated chicken nuggets altogether. On hamburger day, we also offer veggie burgers. We try not to have a lot of beef items on our menu as a result of the New York Times article that exposed the poor quality of the beef served in our nation’s schools. We offer rice and beans at least twice a week, which can be served either as a side dish or a main entrée (this is proving to be very popular). We have a sort of whole-grain bread—the first ingredient is still white flour, but there are many whole grains in it as well—that we use for the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, providing a more nutritious entrée alternative for our students.
Years ago the former principal at the Neighborhood School and a group of parents did some work to improve the schools’ lunches. They brought in our salad bar and got all fried food off the menu. They assumed that once they’d made these changes with SchoolFood, the menu would reflect their preferences on an ongoing basis. But we found out that if you don’t stay vigilant and meet regularly with your SchoolFood manager, all those chicken nuggets and beef raviolis you thought you’d eliminated will sneak back on the kids’ plates. Once you agree on your priorities and develop a strategy with your SchoolFood nutritionist, though, it’s just a matter of a quick meeting with her once a month and things move pretty smoothly. Beyond that, it’s a matter of your own ambitions for your school’s lunches.
Here at P.S. 63 and the Neighborhood School, we continue to work on getting our stovetop, even though it looks like it will take several years and none of the current parents’ kids will benefit from it!
Earth Day is just a couple of weeks away, so we thought we’d ask environmental writer and PS 166 parent Emily Fano about what schools can do to celebrate the day. Plant a tree, shred some paper, participate in a waste free lunch contest. Choose one or two of the fun green initiatives below and make a difference at your school.
NYC Schools Can Celebrate Earth Day in Countless Ways
By Emily Alix Fano
April 22, 2011 will mark the 41st anniversary of Earth Day. This year, “in recognition of the power of millions of individual actions,” Earth Day 2011 will be organized around “A Billion Acts of Green®.” The campaign is asking individuals, corporations, and governments to measurably reduce carbon emissions and support sustainability. At the time of this writing, some 78 million actions have been pledged around the world.
Schools are the perfect place to initiate Acts of Green; in fact, pledges are being registered on the campaign’s “Green Schools and Education” page. There’s no shortage of ideas for fun activities that kids, parents and teachers can do to celebrate Earth Day in New York City schools and beyond. Many of these can become permanent programs. Here are just a few ideas.
Plant Trees: Healthy trees are vitally important for the planet. They regulate climate and supply us with oxygen, and we need a lot more of them. The Plant for the Planet Foundation, founded four years ago by then 9-year-old Felix Finkbeiner, wants children to lead the tree-planting revolution. The group wants to plant one million trees in every country in the world and urges kids to organize planting parties. The MillionTreesNYC initiative has many education programs and tree planting opportunities. As part of the initiative, the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) is giving away 3,000 free trees this spring to individuals and community groups across the five boroughs. Click here to view the current list of giveaway dates and locations, or host your own giveaway! NYRP’s RespecTree program helps students learn the need for trees in NYC and even lets them help pick where trees should get planted in their community. Schools can also opt to get seedlings donated by a local nursery, or order them from the National Arbor Day Foundation and plant them in a suitable spot. If planting trees is not an option, organize a school-wide collection and donate the funds to organizations like Mokugift, American Forests, or Plant for the Planet who will plant trees for you.
Host an ACE Assembly: The non-profit Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) educates students about the science behind climate change and inspires them to do something about it. ACE presenters come to schools free of charge to deliver entertaining multimedia presentations. ACE also invites students to go online and pledge to “Do One Thing” to help the environment and cool the climate. Call ACE’s New York City office to book an assembly at (347) 218-4066.
Participate in a Waste Free Lunch Contest: Kids Konserve (KK), a company selling waste-free lunch items, is sponsoring a “Reduce Your Lunch Waste” Classroom Challenge during Earth Week, April 18-22. The class that generates the least amount of waste per student for the week will get a Kids Konserve Snak Pak. KK has compiled 21 waste-free activities for participating schools, including conducting a classroom waste audit and comparing the energy costs of reusing, recycling and throwing “away.”
Host a Communal Paper Shredding Event: For Earth Day 2010, PS 166 in Manhattan partnered with EcoPlum and CodeShred to host a communal paper shredding event. This was greatly appreciated by many families who – around tax season – were able to shred and recycle piles of old documents. The school also joined in and unloaded bins full of old papers that had been clogging storage rooms for years.
Start a School Eco Club: One of the best ways to get kids interested in environmental issues, and inspire them to work together to create positive change, is to start a school environmental club. These clubs can address a wide range of issues from basic recycling and waste reduction, to cleaner indoor air, gardening, and energy conservation. Ideally, they’re led by a motivated teacher who acts as a mentor and can tie the club’s activities into the curriculum. Dedicated parent volunteers are always helpful and a caring principal can be key. “PS 276 has 1st, 2nd and 6th grade Environmental Clubs for now, and all the grades will eventually be offered the chance to start their own,” says Terry Ruyter the school’s principal. Ruyter says that environmental club members serve as recycling monitors at lunch, are in charge of battery and bottle cap recycling, and harvest compost from worm bins in five or six classrooms. The first and second grade environmental clubs created a list of 100 Ways to Love the Earth which is posted in the school’s hallway and highlighted on the website. This list includes things like “unplug the TV” and “have a compost bin in the kitchen.” The art clubs and environmental clubs at PS 276 are also collaborating to create an interactive mural about how cities can be green. The book Green School 101 offers valuable tips about how to start a school environmental club.
Set Up Recycling Programs and Earn Cash: The children at PS 199 are super recyclers. Aside from paper and cans, they have collection bins for bottle caps, textiles, sneakers, used ink cartridges, and eye glasses for the blind. Recycling pays too, literally: schools can redeem cans, empty ink cartridges, cell phones, and juice pouches and snack wrappers for cash!
Plan an Earth Day/Week Fair: PS 333, the Manhattan School for Children, is planning a week long Earth Fair, April 9 – 15, that will include a school-wide fitness event, classroom air quality and energy labs, a green cleaning information table, a week-long waste reduction competition for grades K – 3, a Harvest Day featuring produce grown in the school’s greenhouse, screenings of educational films like ‘What’s On Your Plate’ and ‘The Story of Stuff,’ and daily class worksheets relevant to each day’s focus. The school has also started its own Community Supported Agriculture program or CSA – offering high quality, fresh produce grown locally by regional farmers to its community from June 1st through October 26th.
Schools can choose to be ambitious or pick one activity. For example, during Earth Month, 6th graders at PS 276 will be reading an Earth fact every day in April over the loudspeaker. A campaign to raise awareness about plastic water bottle waste is also a great idea. School stores can be set up to sell things like stainless steel water bottles. Ask your community to purchase/bring in reusable bottles for a week or month and calculate the plastic you saved.
Help Migratory Birds: Spring is migratory bird season. Songbirds headed to boreal forests in Canada and shorebirds headed to Alaska will stop in our urban parks to rest and feed. New York’s tall buildings and reflective glass pose a collision threat to over 100 species of migratory birds. The New York City Audubon Society (NYCA) has launched Project Safe Flight to protect them. NYCA’s John Rowden says there are many ways school children can help migratory birds. NYCA is working with 1st graders at PS 276 to reduce bird collisions through the creation of artwork that will be hung in the school’s and nearby office building’s windows. Rowden says that schools can turn off their lights at night and encourage families and neighbors to do the same. Classes can take walks in neighborhood parks to do some bird-watching. Children can make birdfeeders and birdhouses to hang on trees around their schools. Donations can be collected for the Wild Bird Fund which helps injured migratory and other birds.
Start a Composting Program: In the U.S. we shockingly waste/throw away 40% of our food supply. As Jonathan Bloom points out in his book American Wasteland, when we throw away food, we’re not only wasting resources like water and oil that are used to produce that food, but rotting food in landfills produces methane – a greenhouse gas that’s 20 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat. Composting can teach children that food isn’t trash.
Matt Sheehan, a former 4th grade teacher at PS 146, the Brooklyn New School (BNS), is now BNS’s volunteer Sustainability Coordinator. With $5,000 from a Golden Apple Award and a corporate grant in 2008, Sheehan organized a school-wide composting program. The system – which is managed during lunchtime – took two years to develop, and has become part of the school’s culture. “There are small plastic worm bins in all kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms with eight teachers maintaining them. There are also two big worm bins outside with 30 pounds of worms in them each, and four composting tumblers,” says Sheehan. Food scraps are collected in the lunchroom. Kids separate the food scraps into 5-gallon plastic buckets (fruits and veggies are separated from liquids and meat). The 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classes work in the lunchroom on 2-week shifts to supervise the program. Middle schoolers come down on Wednesdays and Fridays to chop up the food and put it in the bins. He says that because of the composting program and increasing consciousness among the students, he has seen a shift to less food being thrown out/wasted overall! Until Matt Sheehan can be cloned, the NYC Compost Project has designed a range of workshops on indoor and outdoor composting specifically to service New York City schools.
Whatever you choose to do this Earth Day, remember to register your Act of Green here!
Emily Alix Fano is a writer and green schools advocate living in New York City. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Vegetarian Food Festival to Focus on Kids
New York’s first-ever Vegetarian Food Festival will be held at the Altman Building in Chelsea (135 West 18th Street), on Sunday, April 3.
There will be a day’s worth of cooking demonstrations, food samplings, entertainment, and cookbook signings. But the morning is especially geared toward children and family issues.
The Festival will present acclaimed professional chef Cricket Azima on the Banana Stage, from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Cricket’s interactive children’s cookbook, Everybody Eats Lunch, was published by Glitterati in May 2008.
Cricket’s philosophy is that children can learn about more than just food while in the kitchen, including a foreign language, the importance of good nutrition, history and even math. Join Cricket at the Festival for a hands-on cooking class. Kids will make a delicious vegetarian-friendly lunch using recipes from around the world while learning about different cultures. While the kids are cooking, Cricket will share some tips with parents on how to feed the vegetarian child, focusing on keeping tummies full and nutritional needs in check.
Also for the parents, there will be a presentation on vegan parenting by a pair of young New York celebs, Chloe Jo Davis and Alexandra Jamieson.
Davis is a writer, green expert, animal rescuer, radio host, online personality, ethical fashion expert, and Girlie Girl Army blogger. Jamieson has authored such books as Vegan Cooking For Dummies, Living Vegan For Dummies, and The Great American Detox Diet. They’ll be appearing together on the Apple Stage, 10:15-10:45.
And that’s not all. The Vegetarian Food Festival’s vendors will be doling out tasty samples for young and old. Also of interest to the younger set: there will be donut and cupcake eating contests, exciting raffle prizes, and musical entertainment including belly dancers. Plus, speakers and informational tables on how everyone can do their part to rescue horses, kittens, puppies, and other animals in need.
General admission is free, and VIP admission packages are also available for sale. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For further information, go to NYCVegFoodFest.com or contact 917-544-7306 or info@NYCVegFoodFest.com.
Last year NYC Green Schools wrote about Dennis Kitchen’s amazing non-profit organization, Getting Tools to City Schools, which provides free school supplies to low-income New York City students by selling recycled, reusable binders to schools. We’d thought we’d check in with Dennis to see how sales of his eco-friendly binders were going and to learn more about the free educational component of his work.
Since last year donations to Getting Tools to City Schools (GTCS) have risen three-fold due to an increase in corporate grants and in sales of the binders to schools. The response to GTCS’ eco-friendly binders has been so positive that Dennis is considering expanding their line of products to include 100% recycled tabbed pocket folder/dividers as well as custom-printed, eco-friendly binder labels of school logos. Although most schools don’t commit to buy binders until the summer, over the last few months Dennis has met with over a dozen public school principals who have verbally committed to buying the binders, which, if all goes according to plan, would result in the sale of about 10,000 binders. With that money Dennis anticipates providing over 3,000 public school students this coming September with free schools supplies; last year his organization served 1,000 kids.
dennis talks to students about sustainability
Whether your school is buying the binders or receiving the free school supplies, Dennis offers a free power-point presentation about sustainability and how it directly relates to the life cycle of the binder. Students learn about the paper-mill where the recycled binder covers are produced; they assemble the binders themselves under Dennis’ guidance. At the end of the school year, Dennis returns to the school when the students disassemble their binders. Dennis collects the used covers, which are sent back to the paper mill to be recycled, while the school keeps the metal rings for reuse the following year. In the fall Dennis returns with new recycled binder covers, and the students use the metal rings from the previous year to assemble new binders. In this way students participate in sustainable living firsthand. In addition, money raised from the sale of the binders helps to provide low-income students with the supplies they need to succeed in school. GTCS provides students with a 3-ring recyclable binder, notebook paper, pencils, pens, pocket dividers and a pencil pouch.
students assemblying binders
Dennis understands that with the tremendous budget cuts schools are facing, principals are looking for a great deal as much as they are a good cause. Getting Tools to City Schools is an approved Department of Education vendor offering a significant discount to New York City public schools. The recycled binders are also a smart economic choice, because schools only have to buy the metal rings once since they’re designed to be reused. After the initial purchase of the binders, schools only need to buy the recycled covers which dramatically reduces costs over the long-run. GTCS’ binders also keep wasteful vinyl binders out of our landfills. Each year 40 million vinyl binders are sold in the United States, accounting for 35 million pounds of landfill.
Individuals as well as schools can purchase GTCS’ reusable binders. For every binder that is bought at full price, GTCS will give a free binder to a student at a low-income public school. The other advantage to the paperboard binder covers (which are FDA approved and Forest Stewardship Council certified), your child can decorate the binder however she wants allowing for full creative expression. To order binders for your school or child, go to GTCS’ website.
A few short hours after this article appeared in Gotham Schools, the Department of Education shut down the School Food website containing the ingredients of food served in our schools. Although the website looked completed to us, Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm claimed that the website is a work-in-progress and was not intended for the general public to see yet. There has been no word from the Office of School Food about when they expect to complete the site and make it available to the public. James Subudhi, who saved the information as a pdf file, is looking into making the information available online. In the meantime, we urge parents who believe they have a right to know exactly what their child is eating at school to email Stephen O’Brien, the head of School Food, demanding that they make the site available to the public. Stephen O’Brien’s email address is SOBrien@schools.nyc.gov.
NYC Green Schools met James Subudhi, the Environmental Policy and Advocacy Coordinator at WE ACT for Environmental Justice in Harlem, at the New York City Council’s hearing on the Department of Education’s (DOE) School Food policies held on February 8th, 2011. We were shocked to learn from James’ testimony at the hearing that through a simple Google search he had accessed a DOE Office of School Food website not normally available to the public which contains the ingredients of nearly all the DOE food products served in our city’s schools. You may be wondering, like James and myself, why the DOE hasn’t made this webpage accessible to the general public, particularly to the parents and students who are the consumers of school food. Because NYC Green Schools believes strongly that parents and students have a right to know the ingredients of the food served in our city’s schools, that this transparency is a must to ensure the food in our schools is safe and nutritious, we invited James to write an article about his discovery and to provide a link to the webpage so that parents could find out for themselves what exactly their children are eating at school. If your child is allergic to soy, for example, you might be surprised to learn that the “flame broiled beef patty” contains “textured vegetable protein product” which contains caramel color. We were.
NYC Green Schools is joining WE ACT in calling on the Department of Education to make this webpage available to the general public. There is no room for secrecy when it comes to the food our children are eating at school.
INFORMATION THE DOE IS NOT SHARING WITH YOU ABOUT SCHOOL FOOD
By James Subudhi
Have you ever wondered what’s in the “wheat” bread of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served in New York City public schools, or where the tuna in our schools comes from? As the Environmental Policy and Advocacy Coordinator at WE ACT, I began looking for answers to these questions while conducting research on the corporate supply chain for the food purchased by the New York City Department of Education (DOE). I couldn’t find anything online beyond the basic nutritional information provided on the DOE School Food website. Weeks later, however, while trying to figure out the manufacturing locations of the suppliers of the schools’ hamburger meats, I stumbled on a NYC Office of School Food (OSF) website through a simple Google search, which, surprisingly enough, provides the ingredients for all their food products.
I thought at the time, “This is weird. How come I’ve never seen this page before?” I and no one else in the general public, besides school-food administrators, has seen it because the web page is not available to the public. If you try to enter the page from the official OSF website, you would be denied access because you don’t have the credentials granting you permission to enter the site. One can’t help but ask why the DOE is barring parents from the site preventing them from learning the ingredients of the food their children are eating at school.
As it turns out, the web page is a treasure trove of information detailing the ingredients of nearly all the DOE food products (which you can download). You can even find out information on a product’s sugar content, like the chocolate skim milk, for example, which, on its public website, the OSF claims it does not have the data for. In some cases, you can even find out the geographic location of the manufacturers that make the products.
So if you want to know if school peaches are canned, what food additives are in the chicken nuggets, and where the tuna is manufactured, here’s what you need to do 1. Click on this link. You’ll see a list of food items that are hyper-linked. 2. Scroll down the table, choose a food item you want to learn more about, and click on it, i.e. canadian bacon. 3. You’ll be brought to a page with the nutritional information for the product, but don’t leave the page yet! Scroll down the page until you see the link at the bottom titled “Product Label.” Click on it. A new tab in your browser will open as a PDF file. This document is the product label listing the ingredients, sugar content, occasionally the manufacturing origin, and other revealing pieces of information.
Unfortunately, the fight for transparency over school food products is not over. The DOE could take down the webpage at anytime, which is why I spent my holidays copying all the information into a PDF file. I also called on The NYC Council’s Education Committee at their school food hearing on February 8th, 2011 to use its power of DOE oversight to get the DOE to make the ingredient information on school food available to the public. I’m asking NYC residents to join WE ACT in calling on the DOE to make the ingredients of their foods publically available on their website and in all of their school cafeterias so that every parent can know what their child is eating at school to determine if it’s fresh, nutritious, and safe for them.
To learn more about WE ACT’s campaign for good food in our schools and greater transparency, contact James Subudhi at email@example.com or at 212-961-1000 ext. 311. To learn more about WE ACT, visit their website.
p.s. 276 solar panels
PS 276, also known as the Battery Park City School serving pre-k-8 which opened in 2009-10 to alleviate over-crowding in this Manhattan neighborhood, is the first public school in New York City specifically designed and built to be a green school. The discreet glass solar panels that extend over the entrance of the building and will soon be collecting solar energy for the school are the first indication that this public school is in a league of its own when it comes to sustainable education. Immediately confirming this impression is the high-tech video monitor in the lobby, which will receive data from the school’s solar panels and other energy sources to show students how much energy the school is generating and how much it’s consuming. To help students better understand the amount of energy the school is saving, the figure will be illustrated by showing it’s the equivalent of removing so many cars from the road or planting so many trees.
The school, which was designed by Dattner Architects and built under the New York City School Construction Authority’s Green Schools Guide, is reputed to have cost $80 million with $37 million being funded by The Battery Park City Authority, which paid for all the “green” details of the school like the solar panels, sustainable building materials and low-flow plumbing fixtures. One reigning feature of green architecture is lots of windows to reduce the need for overhead lighting, and PS 276 has no shortage of those in its classrooms with views overlooking the Hudson River.
To further ensure the least amount of overhead light is used, light sensors in each classroom respond to the amount of daylight coming in and automatically dim should the sun suddenly peak out from a patch of clouds. The light sensors also respond to motion: if the sensors detect no motion in the classroom, the lights will automatically turn off, which principal Terri Ruyter admits can be a problem when students are quietly working at their desks.
According to Dattner Architects’ website, the school’s “roof-mounted photovoltaic cells alone generate 50 kilowatts of energy, roughly one-third of the energy needed to light the school.” The firm estimates that the school’s high-efficiency boilers, extra insulation and photovoltaic solar panels will reduce the school’s energy costs by 25%. Principal Terri Ruyter tries to cultivate a green school culture that goes beyond the physical building. The school has a full-time science teacher committed to cultivating an appreciation of the natural world in the younger students while teaching environmental science to the older ones. The school has raised beds lining the perimeter of its outdoor science roof for gardening and an extensive recycling program in its cafeteria and classrooms, where students are expected to recycle not just paper, but milk cartons, aluminum foil, juice cartons, even toilet paper rolls. Students are also encouraged to take the stairs instead of the elevators when needing to go to the second, third or fourth floors.
outdoor science lab
Obviously, most city schools don’t have millions of dollars to invest in photovoltaic cells and other green technology to reduce their energy consumption. But much of what PS 276 is doing to be more sustainable can easily be imitated at other schools at little to no cost. Here’s just a few things I jotted down while touring the school:
1. Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones and do it as a fundraiser for your school.
2. Turn off lights when a classroom is not in use.
3. Make sure your custodian lowers the school’s thermostats at night.
4. Create a fun and colorful bulletin board in the cafeteria and in classrooms to make sure students, teachers and staff are recycling.
5. Get a farmbox and start planting some vegetables and herbs.
6. Create a “Green Team” at your school comprised of your principal, teachers, parents and students to find other ways to make your school more sustainable.
On Tuesday, the City Council led by Council Member Robert Jackson, chair of The Education Committee and Council Member Darlene Mealy, chair of The Contracts Committee, held a public hearing about DOE School Food policies and contracts. School food has become such a hot topic that many activists and parents who showed up for the hearing were forced to stand in a waiting room until seats in the hearing room became available. The hearing began with members of the Council directing questions to a DOE panel comprised of Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm, Eric Goldstein, Director of School Food, and Chef Jorge Callazo, executive chef of School Food. The bulk of the questions focused on the collection of lunch fees from reduced and full paying students, on the universal free breakfast program, and on the procurement of more local produce for school meals. Below is a summary of what I learned from the hearing.
- 500 of the city’s 1,600 schools participate in the universal free meals program, meaning all the students at those schools receive free lunch. For the rest, parents must fill out forms requiring them to reveal their income (it is the only time the DOE forces families to do so) to determine whether they qualify for free or reduced lunch. As reported in The New York Times on Tuesday, a family of four earning $28,665 or less qualifies for free lunch; for reduced lunch the cut off is $40,793. Reduced lunch students pay 25 cents a meal and full lunch students pay $1.50 a meal. Many parents who qualify for free or reduced school lunch haven’t filled out the forms for a variety of reasons, while other parents simply aren’t paying for the lunch their children are eating. In fact, some schools already owe as much as $30,000 for lunches not paid. At this rate, the DOE stands to lose as much as $8 million by the end of the school year.
Chancellor Black is threatening principals that if they don’t collect the money that is owed, the money will be deducted from their schools’ budgets. But principals have no leverage over parents who don’t pay: they can’t stop the child from attending school, they can’t even withhold their report cards. In fact, city rules require that elementary and middle school students who are behind in their lunch payments who come to school with no lunch must be fed the same meal as everyone else. So the only thing principals can do is harass and beg. Is this really how we want our principals to be spending their time, pestering parents about paying their lunch bills instead of engaging parents to get involved in their child’s education?
During the hearing Deputy Chancellor Grimm admitted that most schools have one staff member whose primary job is to collect the lunch money, help families fill out the forms, and match forms with the price scale to make sure students are paying what they’re supposed to. Time and precious resources are being taken away from the actual job of teaching the city’s students to have school administrators act as a collection agency for the DOE. Council Members at the hearing were clearly frustrated by the situation, although it wasn’t clear what if anything could be done about it. Council Member David Greenfield of District 44 in Brooklyn suggested that maybe an $8 million loss, considering the DOE’s operating budget is over $20 billion, was something the DOE could swallow so that principals and administrators could be spared the thankless job of acting as collection agents and could instead focus their attention on improving the education of their students. His suggestion made a lot of sense to me and other people at the hearing.
- New York City does have a universal free breakfast program, but unfortunately, only 32.5% of NYC children avail themselves of it. When asked at the hearing why so few students take advantage of the free breakfast that is offered, Deputy Chancellor Grimm had no answer. In other cities, like Philadelphia, where a vast majority of the students eat the free breakfast, the breakfast is served in the classroom avoiding the stigma for children of showing up early to school to eat breakfast in the cafeteria. There also seemed to be a general consensus at the hearing that principals are not doing a good enough job of getting the word out to parents that free breakfast is available to all the city’s students.
- A big chunk of the hearing focused on procuring more local produce for school meals. Right now 14% of the food served in our schools is procured locally. The DOE spends $13 million a year on milk that’s produced locally and $2 million on yogurt. When Deputy Chancellor Grimm was asked how much of the regional produce bought by the DOE is dairy and how much fruits and vegetables, she conspicuously failed to answer the question. Regional farmers admitted that many small to medium farmers don’t have the processing capacity to meet the specific requirements of the DOE, but they said that if the DOE would commit to long-term contracts with local farmers, those farmers would be willing to make the financial investment in equipment to meet the DOE’s needs. DOE food contracts are up in March 2013 when City Council Members plan to push for the procurement of more local produce. Council Member Margaret Chin was especially insistent about getting more local produce into NYC schools as it’s good for business both on the city and state level, and that the DOE had to do better than 14%.
I also learned at the hearing that the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill’s 6 cents increase per lunch would have no noticeable impact on New York City school lunches, as the extra money will go toward paying increases in food costs that the DOE is already incurring.
When City Council Members were done peppering DOE officials with questions, the microphones were finally turned over to the public who were allowed 3 minutes each to give their testimony. One public school parent brought a loaf of the wheat bread sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup and containing caramel coloring that is served in our city’s schools. An irate Council Member Jackson held up the loaf of bread demanding to know why it wasn’t “whole wheat” as so many DOE officials have claimed and which DOE contracts apparently call for. Unfortunately, no DOE official was left in the hearing room to answer the Chairman’s question.
If you’re planning on making a statement at the City Council hearing tomorrow about DOE school food policies, here are some important details for you to know about.
– You need to sign up before the hearing gets underway at 1pm. Bring identification and allot some extra time to get through security.
– You will have 3 minutes to give your testimony. If you run over 3 minutes, you will most likely be cut off.
– Please bring 20 copies of your written statement double-sided to the hearing so it can be distributed among City Council members
I know the middle of the afternoon is an inconvenient time for parents (to say the least!), but this hearing is a tremendous and unique opportunity for parents to finally be part of the discussion about the food that is served to our children in school, including the junk food that is marketed and sold to our children in school vending machines.
I hope you will join us in voicing your concerns and changes you’d like to see. The hearing will begin at 1pm at 250 Broadway (at Murray Street), 14th floor hearing room.
Elizabeth and Anisa
BIG NEWS! The City Council is having a public hearing next Tuesday, February 8th, on DOE school food policies.
Are you tired of the junk food being sold in school vending machines? Do you want a wellness policy regarding food sold at school fundraisers that genuinely protects the health of our children and not corporate interests? Do you want more transparency about school food contracts? Would you like to see more locally grown produce in our schools?
This hearing is a tremendous opportunity for parents to voice their concerns about the food in our schools and make suggestions for how it can be improved. The City Council really needs to hear from parents – it’s our children who are affected by the food afterall – so they can put pressure on the DOE to make changes. With Mayoral control of the schools, public hearings such as this one are the only way for parents to participate in the democratic process.
Whatever changes you’d like to see, please don’t pass up this opportunity to stand up for our children’s health! Notices from Council Member Brewer’s office on the hearing are below.
Hope to see you at the hearing next Tuesday!
FROM COUNCIL MEMBER BREWER’S OFFICE:
Please be aware of the following updates and information regarding the hearing:
We have received word that pending legislation will not specifically be on the hearing agenda, though Council Members may choose to ask questions pertaining to particular pieces. While there will be separate hearings forthcoming on individual pieces of legislation (including CM Brewer’s Intro 452), this hearing will be to discuss school food issues, give comment, and ask questions. As previously noted, CM Brewer’s focus will be on contracting and procurement with a particular focus on local sourcing.
We have recently been informed that there will be no advance sign up for speaking at the hearing and to ask our constituents not to sign up with Ms. Atwell directly. If you have previously contacted Ms. Atwell about speaking, please follow the directions she gave you at the time of your contact. Sign up to give testimony may be done with the Sergeant at Arms before the hearing. Please check in with the Sergeant when you arrive to make sure you are confirmed to speak.
Please be aware that at Education Committee hearings the DOE will typically testify for 2 hours or more, depending on the number of questions from Council Members. We have been told not to expect to hear from other witnesses until 2:30-3:00. There seems to be a lot of interest & the witness list is very long, so please keep this in mind when making your arrangements.
Pending any additional updates, please direct questions about the hearing to our office. Please feel free to pass this information on to others who plan to attend the hearing.
Reana Kovalich, Legislative Aide, Council Member Gale Brewer, 212-788-6975
I am writing to update you regarding the hearing scheduled in the New York City Council Education Committee, chaired by Council Member Robert Jackson, on the Department of Education’s (DOE) SchoolFood procurement and contracting procedures. The hearing has been officially scheduled for February 8, 2011 at 1pm at 250 Broadway (at Murray Street), 14th floor hearing room.
DOE’s SchoolFood program provides 1,200 NYC public schools with meals for approximately 800,000 students each year. To date, much about the City’s sourcing of school food is unknown by both citizens and legislators. Without a detailed knowledge of existing distributor contracts and purchasing patterns, it is difficult to assess their cost and benefits, or to undertake other, more healthful and potentially cost-effective local food initiatives.
Although I have had a series of both productive and informative meetings on this subject, I believe that a public hearing will further our efforts to improve school food as well as give the public an opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns. The hearing agenda includes two bills I introduced, Intro 452-2011 and Resolution 82-2010. Intro 452-2011 encourages the increased sourcing of locally grown and/or processed foods by city agencies and Resolution 82-2010 seeks to repeal the City’s ban on the sale of home-baked goods in schools.
In addition to issues of school food procurement and contracting, this hearing will address a variety of related DOE food policy issues that have been requested by other Council Members. I anticipate that the hearing will be widely attended and hope that you will consider adding your voice to the discussion. Although there will be an open sign up for public comments, you may also sign up in advance by contacting Jan Atwell at JAtwell@council.nyc.gov. Please feel free to contact me or Legislative Liaison Reana Kovalcik RKovalcik@council.nyc.gov at 212.788.6975 if you have any additional questions or comments.
Gale A. Brewer
Council Member, District 6: Upper West Side and Clinton, Manhattan