Refreshing School Nutrition Spaces: The Power of Collaborative Partnerships

In “Refreshing School Nutrition Spaces” in the November 2016 issue of School Nutrition, Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, takes a look at ideas for out-of-the-box partnerships, readily available grants and some old-fashioned DIY (do-it-yourself) ingenuity—all guaranteed to put some “wow” into your school nutrition spaces without needing to budget big bucks. Here, explore an example of how a high school psychology class project led to a creative redesign of one cafeteria.

Billerica-MassA high school cafeteria redesign is a creative collaborative effort at Billerica (Mass.) Public Schools, applying the assistance of high school students, members of the administration and custodial staff. When a high school psychology class was given the option to “create change in the high school” as an assignment, the group identified reconfiguring the larger cafeteria as the top priority, recounts School Nutrition Director April Laskey, SNS.

The cafeteria is divided into three sections: two upper and one lower (called The Pit). These provoked anxiety for some students when it came to finding seats at long bench tables. “Many of them were looking for a more intimate seating option with only four to six seats per table area,” she explains. Working together, students and staff developed a design that would allow for more intimate seating and for regular reconfigurations to accommodate groups of different sizes—all without reducing the number of students that needed to be accommodated at lunchtime.

Laskey reports that the new design was an immediate hit. “Having the option to sit in smaller groups or in larger groups works for everyone!” she notes enthusiastically. “We’re still working out some kinks, like making sure the café is set back after use by outside groups, but everyone is invested in this and working together to make it happen.”

A Phase Two of this project involves establishing a “Quiet Café” for those students seeking a quiet area to eat, study and talk quietly. Art students will decorate the walls of this space and the Community Service Class will arrange furniture within the space. Life Skills students will be involved in implementing a reservation system for seating in the area, as well as making sure that utensils, condiments and tables are cleaned and stocked—this provides them with skills training for possible restaurant jobs.

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