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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Manchester

#DontTeachAlone: Juli, the Food Services Director

Juli: like that restaurant mentality, so friendly people, delicious food, innovative ideas.

Bill: This is a school leader in Columbus, OH in the US. The restaurant mentality she is talking about is not a fancy metaphor.

Juli: my name is Juliana Carvi. I'm the food service director at Bexley City Schools.

Bill: When thinking about the primary mission of the school and how we support each other, the school cafeteria staff might not immediately come to mind. But in this district where an elementary, middle, and high school share the same campus and cafeteria…

Juli:the kids that go to cassingham, they will see the same people in the lunch line for those full 13 years. There is no other position in this district [with that consistency.]

Bill: Taking the privilege of seeing students every school day for 13 years seriously means owning the responsibility for your part in creating an atmosphere that is conducive to learning. I noticed this shift in responsibility once during a staff professional development session. We had split into small groups in our building and I did not recognize one of the women in our group. I introduced myself figuring she was perhaps a student teacher or in turn, another teacher quickly stepped in. This is Miss Jones, and she is one of the cafeteria workers that sees our kids every day. We were having discussions about school climate and equity and Juli saw to it that her staff were part of those discussions.

Juli: There are times where it seems like an obvious fit where we need to have food service integrated with what else is going on in the building. There are other times where it's not an obvious fit-clearly like as the science teachers are talking about curriculum. Food service doesn't need to be there, but when we're talking about maybe the culture and the climate of the school, that's a great place for food service to be there

We are typically the first ones to see them in the morning; we see them every single day. Some of the kids we see them twice a day and a lot of times lunch is the best part of their day.

Five years ago, six years ago I sat in front of the board and I said I want to be a child’s “person” that they remember when they leave school 'cause I read an article that said students remember their coach or their favorite teacher 10 years out. And I was like I need to be that for one student a year. I need to be their person and so and I challenged my staff also to be that. One student per year. When we do performance evaluations like learn the students names, part of our protocol, say the students names when they come through. Like oh, hey Susie, I see you have milk and juice today.

People like to hear their names. everything all the time is about connecting with people.

Bill: Julie's main goal and job description is about the nutritional well being of the students.

Julie: And I really want every child to buy lunch… I want them to enjoy school and all that other and and like us, but really I want every kid to eat a school lunch at school 'cause I think it's the best. It's typically the healthiest food that they will come across. It is low sodium, low fat. They're not leaving campus. I think when they are on campus they are safer. I think that you know a warm lunch is fun in somebody's belly

Bill: But her whole child perspective and her knowledge that food is about more than just something you put in your stomach, put her in a position to come alongside teachers and students in new learning initiatives.

Julie: Well there this was high school girl who is like, I wanna have a Hispanic heritage celebration and this is what I wanted to look like and she really lead the charge. so she got with her teacher advocate. And then just went through the system like this: What I want to do? How do I get money? What can we do for food?

And we problem solved it on the ground. It was successful and beautiful.

Bill: I got to experience the result of this work first hand during lunch. I was listening to the Latin band that was playing in the courtyard in the front of the school. Kiara, a former student of mine came up to me and asked if I had gotten the school lunch and tried the empanadas.

“They’re my grandmother's recipe and I helped to make them,” she told me.The front lawn was soon filled with students seating their empanadas and eventually singing and dancing to the incredible music from the band made up of South American immigrants.

Juli: When we talk about food and heritage, we are super mindful to be culturally aware that we're not reductive, that we are not saying that a group of people is limited to and only about the food that they eat. We have a better understanding about that than that. When we did these two celebrations and as we do more celebrations going forward, there is information to the students. There is information going out to the parents saying that we truly understand the full scope and why these things are important. We don't want to avoid talking about it, but we really don't want to be reductive.

Like- this is all one culture is about is tacos. That's not true, we want to make sure that we are culturally sensitive and aware, but also invite the conversation, because often times across the world the way the entry into other peoples’ culture is through the food.

Bill: So when presented with this request to have food services be part of the intentional education efforts of students and teachers, Julie and her team did not say “that's not our job. That's beyond the scope of what we are here to do.” Julie and her team took advantage of the opportunity to be part of educating the whole child. This push from one student made students and teachers realize that this could be a regular way to fuse learning, food, and celebrations.

Juli: And then we had more conversations internally about what to do with other upcoming events and again a group of students choose to advocate for a Black History Month celebration and we pulled that all together to make it happen.

Our initial meeting is: what do you think you want to have? And then I kind of filter that through what can we feasibly do and then we come up with some ideas. And then they went back to aunties and their mommies and whoever in their families and said this is what it looks like at a household size. You know I was like OK, let me blow that up, that's my job, let me expand that let me make that like into 600 servings.

Some things are more feasible than others and we also try to pick a piece where the students are in the kitchen after school the night before creating some of the food. With the heritage month, we had empanadas and the recipes were different people’s family’s empanadas that the students made and then we had a banana pudding for the Black History Month celebration that the students were in there cutting up bananas, making the pudding cups, putting on the whip cream.

Bill: It's worth revisiting here Julie's insistence on avoiding reductionism. Students who were excited about celebrating their heritage through culinary traditions were approaching her. Like all good teachers, she wanted to reward and recognize this initiative in learning, but also knew her responsibility in making sure the context was communicated as clearly as possible.

When it comes to celebrating and even learning about cultures outside of teachers' experience, there is sometimes a fear of getting it wrong or not being authentic. That can cause teachers to avoid culturally sensitive topics they are not personally familiar with.

While mistakes can still happen, Julie's example provides a model for how teachers can let student initiative drive these educational experiences in culturally appropriate ways.

There's a lot of strong pedagogy going on here. We see the design cycle at work as students are presenting ideas, then revising them with Julie as to what will and won't work. We also see a beautiful shifting between student driven learning and teacher directed or in this case food services director directed learning. Educational practices are sometimes bifurcated into either student driven or teacher driven. But in this instance and some many other educational opportunities, the strengths and resources of both student and the teacher require a shifting back and forth of who is driving the learning forward.

#DontTeachAlone is not just a catchy slogan, but also a reminder of how great learning happens when we are all working together: students, teachers, parents, food service workers and everyone involved in the life of the child.

This has been A Different Edupodcast brought to you by Special recognition in this episode is due to Kiara Zamot (check out the article here- who was the student who led the initiative for the Hispanic Heritage Celebration and came up to talk to me about empanadas. We also want to recognize Mabi Ponce de Leon, who was the faculty liaison for the project. The Latin music heard in this episode is courtesy of Leonardo Morales and Encasa Studios. The recordings played were from Leo and his ensemble that had played at the lunch event, but the recordings were studio cuts, not live audio. For more information on Leo and his work visit his website:

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