By Rob Randall, Director of Middle School Initiatives
posted on 3.19.14
For the past 2 weeks, the Gilbert Stuart and Esek Hopkins AfterZone sites have been piloting a new program in partnership with Sodexo and the Healthy Communities Office at City Hall. In a short period of time, this program has really taken off with AfterZone youth, educators, and staff alike.
The program? DINNER!
Instead of afternoon snack (usually some crackers/cookies and juice or milk), students have been starting their AfterZone programs by choosing from 2 entrees, both of which come with veggies, fresh fruit, and milk. On Tuesday I went out to Gilbert Stuart to see how the new meal program was going and found a cafeteria full of satisfied—and calm—middle schoolers eating sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, salads, and a variety of seasonal healthy sweets in the form of apples, oranges, and pears.
We’ve found this pilot program has some surprise benefits beyond nutritional health, too. Because some of our students eat lunch as early as 10:30am, they were coming to their after-school programs hungry, which in turn made many of them less focused and more restless. AfterZone dinner gives them the nutrition they need to focus and excel at their programs, and both the Hopkins and Stuart AfterZone Site Coordinators have reported that the rhythm of the afternoon has really shifted now that students aren’t doing homework, arts and crafts, or career exploration activities on an empty stomach.
Additionally, the dinner format means that students start their afternoon sharing a sit-down meal together, which really shifts their energy. They get their meals and then sit with their program cohort, having conversation, and bonding with peers and program leaders.
Many of the students have also begun volunteering to work with cafeteria staff to distribute dinners to fellow students. Apparently, the off-limits, staff-only side of the lunch counter has held a lot of mystique for students during the school day, so they relish the opportunity to showcase their dinner distribution leadership skills.
There has been a lot of research about how nutrition and student performance are linked during the school day, but it’s been interesting to see how important it is to make sure that students have the same benefit of a healthy, well-balanced meal after school. We all function better when we’re well-fed with healthy food, so why shouldn’t we make sure our young people get that same boost?