Fight re-launched to save school nutrition programs

Parents and kids filled Berkeley’s council chambers to speak out to the School Board about the importance of the district’s gardening and cooking programs, Nov. 13, 2012. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Families from a range of Berkeley school communities packed the Berkeley School Board meeting last week to speak out about the importance of the district’s gardening and cooking programs in the face of financial changes that could threaten the efforts in the future.

Parents used school PTA email lists before the Nov. 14 meeting to ask supporters to attend the session to show their commitment to the programming.

According to an email sent to LeConte Elementary School parents, “Currently, 14 of the 18 school sites in Berkeley receive a total of $1.9 million each year in federal funding for nutritional education through the Network for a Healthy California. These funds are expected to starkly diminish if not totally disappear as soon as next year or in the very near future.”

The district “has no transition plan in place” to make up for the loss in financial support, according to the LeConte message, and four schools continue to lack programming in gardening and cooking.

The email continues: “Now is the time for Berkeley to craft an ambitious, forward-­looking District­wide program to meet the current and future challenges facing our students and families, including reducing childhood obesity, strengthening students’ core academic skills, bridging the achievement gap in line with Berkeley’s 2020 Vision, and building nutrition education and sustainable life skills into our kids’ and families’ daily choices.”

Earlier this year, parents feared that the district would lose funding for the programs in 2012-13 but, as reported by Berkeleyside in June, a state network came to the rescue.

At that time, Leah Sokolofski, program supervisor for the BUSD Cooking and Garden Nutrition Program, said that the Network for a Healthy California, the state program that administers the federal monies to local school districts, had told BUSDoit would extend the funding for an additional year.

Give the financial uncertainty long term, parents formed the Berkeley Garden and Cooking Alliance, along with representatives from all Berkeley schools and some community groups, to advocate for continuation of funding for the programs.

Last Wednesday night, dozens of parents told the school board how much the programs mattered to them and their children.

Parents said programs like the district’s edible curriculum are the ones that draw many families to Berkeley schools. Photo: Emilie Raguso

“Our time is short and the time for action is now” to save the programs, said one father.

Parents said programs like the district’s edible curriculum are the ones that draw many families to Berkeley schools, and part of what makes them willing to pay higher taxes and rent to live in the city so their children can participate.

Parents donned school t-shirts to show their local pride, and brought signs and drawings to demonstrate their support for the programs.

One speaker said she hoped the board would see “how much these classes and these programs are loved,” as “parents all over the district are saying, ‘This is why my kid goes to school.'”

Parents addressed the board during the public comment period, as the item was not part of the meeting’s scheduled agenda. (Board members are not legally allowed to comment on items discussed during this part of the meeting.)

The board plans to take up the issue at its Nov. 28 meeting, said Co-Superintendent Neil Smith of the Berkeley Unified School District, via email. Smith said documents for the meeting will be posted on the district’s website Tuesday evening.

Berkeleyside will continue to cover this issue when it returns to the board.

School edible programs get reprieve from the feds [06.14.12]
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]

This story is also published on Berkeleyside NOSH, our brand new food section covering Oakland and Berkeley, launched last week. If you’re interested in local food news, bookmark NOSH and follow Berkeleyside NOSH on Twitter, and on Facebook.

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  • Howie Mencken

    Ooops…meant to post this in the math article

  • Anonymous

     Oddly, it’s just as applicable here. It must have something have to do with recurring themes involving BUSD.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    This is why I refer to the “achievement gap” as the “parenting gap.”  

  • PragmaticProgressive

    The district agenda — as articulated in its 2020 Vision — is all about the “achievement gap.”  If your kid tests for GATE or if you want enrichment that would allow your child to maximize his/her potential, you won’t get it because that would further widen the gap and harm the self-esteem of the kids who are struggling.  

  • Another Berkeley Parent

    Apologies for responding here to your comment just above (Disqus wouldn’t allow a “reply” there), but your logic regarding private school enrollment pulling students from educated wealthier Berkeley families from BUSD is fatuous. My child was recently enrolled at Ecole Bilingue,
    and only two other families in the class resided in Berkeley (that’s 3 out of 22). We are now at BUSD, and are SO much happier with the education our child is receiving (including, yes, the gardening and cooking components). Unless you’ve got hard numbers showing enrollment at private schools broken down by city, do not extrapolate that there’s some kind of brain-drain of educated families out of BUSD. In our zone (North), we’ve got diverse families in my child’s class, but a larger percentage of highly educated ones than at EB.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I just checked American factfinder at the census bureau. The American community survey Report for 2009 – 2011 Three-year estimates Shows that private school enrollment in grades K through eight in Berkeley is double the rate in Alameda County as a whole. Search for report s1401.

    I’m glad you’re having a good experience, but please count our blessings and don’t try to genetalize from that. We have some of the best funded schools in the state and the hard data show that residents close private alternatives at twice the county rate, almost three times the state rate, and close to seven times the rate of top districts like Piedmont.

    PS The one-year survey shows an estimated 25% private school enrollment for kindergarten, compared to a 21% enrollment in three years.

  • EBGuy

    I’m of two minds on this topic. Like the Jefferson parent, I’d like to see a district wide program funded at all schools. At the same time, I can’t help but think that Berkeley DOES have large pockets of free/reduced lunch students and SHOULD be taking the federal funding at as many schools as possible. In that scenario, we simply need to optimize the distribution of our socioeconomically challenged students. In fact, I’m sure we could make some students and parents happier in the process as the kids could attend schools closer to home. To be clear, I’m not talking about a wholesale dismissal of the zone system, but a tweak. Free/reduced lunch students would be given an opportunity to transfer closer to home, and non-eligible students would be entered into a lottery for transfer. This method could be used to bolster the free/reduced lunch eligible students at schools that are falling marginally under the 50% threshold (Washington, Rosa Parks, etc…)

  • emraguso

    This message went out Wednesday night: “The Members of the BUSD School Board voted tonight in unanimous support for the Superintendent’s Task Force for District-wide Gardening and Cooking. This means that the District is taking up a transitional planning process to ensure the long-term financial viability of G&C and to re-envision the G&C program at a District-wide level. I’ve attached the proposal that the Board approved here. Please pass this on to your PTAs and school communities.
    “Congratulations to everyone – stalwarts and new recruits – for the hard work and show-up-edness that got us to this place. The next stage is full of potential and we have solid backing from the Superintendent’s office, the School Board, and a fantastic constituency of community support.
    “Thanks again to everyone. And an enormous Thank You to the Superintendent’s Office and Members of the School Board.”

  • Earl Finnegan

    It’s important to have nutrition education programs for school children. If they learn it early it will stick with them their entire life.