Oakland Unified School District OUSD

Oakland Schools: OUSD Celebrates National School Lunch Week, Welcomes Stephanie Bruce, New Head of Nutrition Services

OUSD Celebrates National School Lunch Week and Welcomes New Head of Nutrition Services
Oakland – This week, just like school districts across the country, OUSD is celebrating National School Lunch Week. At Hoover Elementary School, a recent lunchtime had students selecting from a menu that included hamburgers, corndogs, tater tots, fresh vegetables and fruit, and milk. “It’s so good, it tastes yummy in my tummy,” exclaimed kindergartener, Maliyaa who had chosen a hamburger and an apple.

Receiving hand sanitizer upon entering the cafeteria, choosing the day’s meal, and staff cleaning the tables before the next group of students arrives.

Maliyaa was among a group of kindergarteners who got to eat first on this day, after which the nutrition services staff cleaned the tables before the next group came into the cafeteria. Each student who walked in also got hand sanitizer. “Right now, especially with the pandemic, a lot of parents lost their jobs, so they do rely on what their kids eat here,” said nutrition services assistant, Diana Manjarrez. “There’s kids who ask for second or third rounds. And if we don’t have enough, we have to say we can’t, because then we would leave a child without a lunch. It makes my heart really sad.”

The National School Lunch Program was created by President John F. Kennedy in 1962 to promote the importance of a healthy lunch for students. It serves 30 million children in the United States every day. Here in OUSD, more than 70% of our students qualify for free and reduced priced lunches, so there is great need to ensure that our students have healthy meals to power them through their days in school. “This year especially, the lunches have been really good. The fruit and everything that’s been sent has been fresh and delicious,” said Hoover Principal Lissette Averhoff. “It’s just exciting to see the kids enjoying their food and their time together. We know we’ve been out of school so long, it’s nice to have everybody together and happy and eating, and knowing that they’re being taken care of.”

Principal Averhoff says making sure students have eaten nutritious food gets them ready to learn when they are in class, because an empty stomach can cause problems. “That’s when all the behaviors happen, especially like now, we have kindergarteners here and they’ll be crying all afternoon, they’re sleepy, they’ll want to take naps, won’t have energy, a lot more fights happen, and kids are just cranky. And when they go back (having eaten), they’re able to focus, get their work done, get along with their peers, and make better decisions.”

California now has a law on the books that provides free school lunches to any student who wants one regardless of ability to pay. It doesn’t take effect until next year, but because of federal waivers, the impact this year is the same. For students, it removes the stigma that can be attached to receiving free or reduced price school meals because everyone gets to eat for free. The ability to receive free meals has caused a dramatic rise in demand among students at many schools across the District. So, now is a good time for student leaders who work to give feedback to Nutrition Services to review the food, just like a Hoover 5th grader named Ash did. “The food now, it’s kind of good. But I recommend the chicken to be more seasoned.”

“School meals are critical for our community, and never more so than over the past year and a half when our Nutrition Services team helped get thousands of our students and their families through the pandemic and loss of resources that so many people experienced,” said Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell. “For students in the classroom, the research is clear. The learning process is significantly hampered if young people haven’t had enough to eat. That’s why the work of our team at the Central Kitchen and at our school sites is so important, and why we thank the state of California for taking the important step of ensuring lunches are available to all students free of charge.”

National School Lunch Week is also the perfect time to introduce the person who will be leading our Nutrition Services team into the future, the new Senior Executive Director for Nutrition Services, Stephanie Bruce (pictured). Ms. Bruce is a Bay Area native, and comes to OUSD from Palm Springs where she led that school district’s central kitchen for the last 8 years. She is a former chef and served as food service manager at Universal Studios before transitioning to school district nutrition services in 2002.

Ms. Bruce is one of the leading experts on Child Nutrition in California and was a critical voice in advocating at the state level for free school meals for all students. Here are a recent Edsource article and an Edsource podcast that highlight her work in Southern California. Just two weeks ago, she became the inaugural recipient of the California Food for California Kids School Food Policy Advocacy Award from the Center for Ecoliteracy. With 20+ years of experience leading central kitchens and transforming nutrition programs, Ms. Bruce is already bringing her energy and skills to improving food quality and dining experiences for all OUSD students. Welcome to OUSD, Ms. Bruce and Happy National School Lunch Week!

Post based on press release from Oakland Unified School District to ZENNIE62MEDIA, INC.

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