School lunch programs aren’t typically the type of thing teens get excited about. But a fresh foods pilot program at George C. Marshall High School has students not only queuing up at the Statesmen Station, but taking part in fostering the fresh food bar – and even rapping about it.
At a ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept. 12, Marshall introduced those in attendance to the Statesmen Station – a whole-foods salad and deli bar with a highlighted chef-created entrée and other fresh options, all served with nutrition in mind. The event was attended by some of the school officials and community members who worked together to launch the pilot program at Marshall. Also in attendance was David Esquith, director of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students at the U.S. Department of Education, who praised those involved for being “on the cutting edge” of school nutrition.
The health of students and the nutritional value of the meals that fuel them have been on the minds of several Fairfax County parents, who three years ago formed Real Food For Kids to advocate for healthy changes in school menus. It was around that same time that the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed into law, allocating funds and setting new standards for school foods.
Even with those guidelines in place, Real Food For Kids President JoAnne Hammermaster says that processed foods can still be found in cafeterias, and her group promotes fresh, whole foods in their place. But it can be challenging to get student support for such changes, she said, as many have palates that are accustomed to less-than-healthy processed foods. Hammermaster says the way to get students eating healthier is to teach them about nutrition and making better choices, and to expose them to fresh foods they may not have tried before.
Real Food For Kids worked with school officials to promote fresh foods in a trial program, and last year the School Board set aside funding for the Statesmen Station as part of the school’s kitchen and cafeteria renovations. Student input was sought for the project, and several Marshall students found unique ways to pitch in. A team of students designed the Statesmen Station logo and the red awning over the opening to the fresh foods bar. The newly formed Nutrition Club has plans to survey students to find out what they like and dislike about the bar and what foods they’d like to see there. And one group of students lent their musical talents to the cause by forming MC Horne and the Fresh wRappers.
The students wrote a song about the launch of the Statesmen Station and the virtues of good nutrition, with the lyrical refrain “I just can’t get enough of this; it’s the healthiest,” and rapped verses about the need for healthy food options at school. The students made a music video, and performed the song at the ribbon cutting.
Hammermaster is delighted that the student rappers responded enthusiastically to this change in their school foods program.
“School food stuff can get either boring or negative, that’s not what this is,” Hammermaster said. “It’s a great, fun, positive way to spread that message that kids do want fresh food.”
While the program is still limited to a single Fairfax County school, Hammermaster hopes that parts of the program can be implemented in other schools in the county, and hopes that the results of an assessment of Fairfax County Public Schools food services due next month can be used to set the “road map” for ways to get fresh foods to local students.
“We’re very excited about what those possibilities are,” Hammermaster said.