BUSD School Lunch Initiative up for Evaluation

By Suzanne La Barre
Tuesday June 20, 2006

Berkeley’s School Lunch Initiative has attracted a big helping of publicity in recent days, including a feature in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Food section and a spread in Time Magazine. Now, it is garnering the attention of the research world.  

On Wednesday, the Berkeley Board of Education will decide whether to allow three organizations to formally evaluate the initiative, a districtwide effort that attempts to improve the health and well- being of Berkeley’s public school students by placing food at the fore of the classroom. Students learn about where food comes from and are actively engaged in producing what they consume. 

The program is a partnership of the Chez Panisse Foundation and the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) in collaboration with the Center for Ecoliteracy and Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI). 

The center and the research institute, in addition to the UC Berkeley Center for Weight and Health, and the UC Berkeley Institute for the Study of Social Change will take up different areas of research with relation to the initiative. Each is expected to publish findings.  

“I think it is the next logical step,” said school board director John Selawsky, whose work on the board has focused heavily on student nutrition. “I think it’s very exciting.” 

The Center for Weight and Health will look at the initiative’s impact on students’ knowledge, behavior and attitudes on health and nutrition. The study will evaluate fourth- and fifth-graders over three years, and will involve site visits and interviews with food service staff, teachers and parents. Reporting is anticipated by 2010. 

The Institute for the Study of Social Change, which examines issues surrounding race, ethnicity, class and gender, will hone in on social relationships and contexts as they relate to eating habits. Groups of middle school students and their families are slated for study, with a report expected by 2009.  

CHORI, a biomedical research institute, in conjunction with the Center for Ecoliteracy, will analyze students’ physical and metabolic characteristics as they relate to the program. Results may be released as soon as the fall of 2007. 

Data from the California Fitness Test revealed that about a third of BUSD students were overweight in 2003-2004, and a UC study found that the district’s 11- to 15-year-olds were eating only about half the recommended amount of produce. 

The school lunch initative, which counts edible gardens and kitchen classrooms as central components, was implemented in 2004 under the auspices of Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame. 

Also Wednesday, the Berkeley Board of Education is expected to: 

• vote on a resolution calling for a school parcel tax measure to be placed before voters this November. Berkeley Schools Excellence Project of 2006, as it will be called, is expected to supply the district with about $19.6 million a year for 10 years to maintain small class sizes, arts programs and fund professional development. Directors approved the formal language of the measure at their last regularly scheduled meeting. 

• discuss the district’s 2006-2007 preliminary budget. 

• hear a request to negotiate contracts with the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21, which represents the district’s technical staff. 

• vote to increase the price of student meals by 50 cents, bumping up the cost of dining on campus to $3 for elementary school students, $3.50 for middle school students and $4 for high schoolers. This will be the first hike in student meal prices in more than 10 years. 

The Berkeley Board of Education meets Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. For more information, call 644-6206.