School edible programs get reprieve from the feds

Berkeley's school gardens get good news on the funding front. Photo: Rivka Masons

As the academic year winds to a close this week there is welcome news for next year. Schools are to get a one-year reprieve on the funding front from the federal government for the gardening and cooking programs at three of Berkeley Unified School District‘s elementary schools.

Earlier in the year it was feared that the schools — Malcolm XRosa Parks, and Washington  — were going to lose these federal funds, due to failure to meet existing guidelines that require a school to have at least 50% of its students enrolled in the free and reduced-lunch programs.

In April — following a series of school board meetings where parents and community members made an impassioned case for the importance of keeping such curricula — the BUSD Board voted to authorize funding up to $350,000 for edible programs at the three elementary schools in question for the following year.

Now comes word that won’t be necessary. The Network for a Healthy California, the state program that administers the federal monies to local school districts, recently informed the BUSD of its intention to extend the funding for an additional year, according to Leah Sokolofski, program supervisor for the BUSD Cooking and Garden Nutrition Program. The scope of work and budget must remain the same at each school, and no additional schools will be able to use the funds, noted Sokolofski in an email sent to school principals on Tuesday.

While the reprieve is a welcome one, school cooking and gardening advocates are mindful it’s not a long-term solution. They’re exploring a range of options for securing financial support to ensure this instruction remains in place beyond 2013, said Malcolm X parent Joshua Board. Last month, BUSD students sent hundreds of postcards seeking support for such classes to First Lady Michelle Obama, who has made such programming a priority in her tenure.

The other elementary schools that received federal funds for gardening and cooking instruction this year, and will continue to do so next year, include Emerson, John Muir, Le Conte, and Thousand Oaks.

Berkeley Arts Magnet, Cragmont, Jefferson, and Oxford failed to meet the criteria for these monies. To date, these schools have relied on parent volunteers, PTA funds, and other sources to fund programs at their sites, if they have had them at all. (Willard, Longfellow, B-Tech, and Berkeley High, along with King CDC, Franklin, and Hopkins preschools, also receive NHC grants.)

“Long term we want to find ways to make these programs available and sustainable to every public school student in Berkeley,” Malcolm X parent Marian Mabel told Berkeleyside earlier this year. Mabel and Board are active in the Berkeley Schools Gardening and Cooking Alliance a vocal group that lobbied for support of their cause at school board meetings this spring.

While some have speculated whether the BUSD’s funds might be redirected to the four schools that don’t receive NHC grants for cooking and gardening programs, such a move seems unlikely. “At this time, I do not think it makes sense for the district to commit funds for expansion given the one-time nature of the available funding,” wrote Board member Leah Wilson in an email to Berkeleyside back in April. “I hope and expect that the parent fundraising activity to be conducted during the course of the next year will address the need for program expansion.”

Update: BUSD spokesman Mark Coplan confirmed that the funds designated for the three school programs will return to reserves.

Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Berkeley district votes to fund at-risk edible programs
Community seeks life support for school edible programs [03.30.12]
Berkeley school district cuts to tackle $3m deficit [03.28.12]
Berkeley school gardening, cooking face cuts [03.23.12]

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  • newbie

    Does this mean Emerson, LeConte, John Muir and Thousand Oaks are the only schools with over 50% of kids meeting free and reduced lunch requirements?  I thought the schools were supposed to be balanced so that we didn’t have schools of “haves” and others of “have nots”. 

  • Anonymous

     Oh, if only it were that simple. Here’s an interesting discussion from a couple months ago:

    Gardening, like elementary school PE, is one of those “Programs to Enhance Student Learning” that most people assume BSEP was intended to pay for.

  • EBGuy

     District-wide at the elementary and middle school level (circa 2010-11 Ed-Data)  we are right around 50% of the students eligible for free/reduced lunches.   The three socioeconomic categories that get balanced within each zone (per school) are based on census tracts.    It works fairly well, but a couple of kids per grade level can skew the school ‘too rich’ to be eligible for the NHC monies.  These couple schools have higher percentages of kids eligible for free/reduced lunches:
    John Muir 58.7%, Leconte 56.4%, Thousand Oaks 52.3%
    Perhaps we need a ‘draft day’ after the lottery to allow some kids to transfer to schools closer to their homes.  It would certainly be a win-win (except for the folks who want to transfer and aren’t chosen).