A lack of adequate nutrition and a balanced diet is widely accepted as having a significant impact on learning, and performance and adequate brain functioning.. This problem can also be observed in students’ attendance and achievement in school, based on their ability to consistently access healthy meals in school as well as at home.
Nutrition is a basic, yet important, factor in students’ behavior and achievement in school. According to the Childhood Hunger Coalition, “children who are hungry are at higher risk for developmental and academic problems,” but through staff and faculty members’ efforts to build authentic relationships with students and families, these problems can be addressed and teachers can inform and support the families and kids with the resources and institutions that they can utilize for help and may otherwise not know about.
School-provided food programs are not without their own shortcomings, this is evident when looking at schools in affluent neighborhoods that have an array of food to choose from, and schools in low income areas that have the bare minimal of food that is required- this leads to a root of inequality within the education system, and is an example of how schools do not work. Another example of how schools do not working can be shown through them not having the proper resources for the nutrition that has the most influential impact on performance. An example of some of the imbalances in the nutritional programs can be seen in the standards for breakfasts offered in Portland Public School (PPS), in which it is stated that every breakfast has a serving of milk, fruit and juice. But if we take a look at what children are actually eating on a daily basis in the breakfasts supplied by PPS their notions of what constitutes healthy eating, proper nutrition, and even fruit and juice are brought into question. On any given day breakfast these kids may have 70 grams of sugar or more (http://www.pps.k12.or.us/files/nutrition/2014-15-Breakfast-Menu.pdf), and not enough food that the brain requires for it to be ready to retain information, to learn more effectively, and/or to be a productive student in all areas.
With the need for beneficial nutritional programs available to students and their families in mind, our Placement In the Community team decided that our project should focus on contributing to programs in the Portland community that assisted in providing adequate nutrition to those in need. We worked with two organizations: the Oregon Food Bank (OFB) and Potluck in the Park.
The OFB (http://www.oregonfoodbank.org/) is the larger organization of the two we worked with, and features numerous programs including, but not limited to, The Fresh Alliance and The School Pantry Program, which partners with Schools Uniting Neighborhoods and applies to schools with at least 65% free and reduced lunch rates. The OFB receives food from various community partners which then is provided to families and students in need, as well as programs like Potluck in the Park. Families have an array of foods to choose from, allowing a redistribution of power for families to decide what they feed their kids.
The other organization that we volunteered with is the Potluck in the Park program, which is a volunteer-driven, non-profit organization that has operated since 1991 (http://www.potluckinthepark.org/about/), providing meals to disadvantaged Portlanders. This program could be seen as one which is working at redistributing power, as it relies on the efforts and contributions of private members of the community, rather than on larger systems. Not only has this organization operated effectively with only volunteers and no dedicated kitchen or office, but it has also managed to provide nutritious meals which could be seen as inspiration for larger food programs, including that of PPS.
In conclusion, working in a perspective of social change, our group was able to help programs that in return help students and families receive adequate nutrition when PPS is not able to do so. The importance of providing adequate nutrition to students is critical in their ability to further progress within school and the community. In our following video, each of our team members discusses the dynamics of their volunteer experiences.