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Posts Tagged ‘high school’

-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC.

One in three children in the U.S. is overweight or obese according to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.  Pressure is growing on strapped for cash school systems to provide healthier meals.  D.C. Public Schools has implemented a salad bar system this year and asked for volunteers to help teach students how to make a healthy salad that complies with USDA requirements for school meals.

I signed up to help out at Ballou Senior High School.  Named after former D.C. superintendent of schools Dr. Frank W. Ballou, the school is located southeast of the Anacostia River and has a student body of about 1,000, nearly all of them eligible for free and reduced lunch.  I parked my car in the almost empty lot next to the football field and walked up the hill toward the school passing several parked police cars.  A friendly smile greeted me as the front door opened and a uniformed security guard motioned toward an airport like security checkpoint.  After collecting my camera and the contents of my pockets from the other side of the x-ray machine, the same woman explained to me how to get to the cafeteria.

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Ballou's salad bar minutes before students flood the cafeteria. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

I made my way across the empty dimly lit cafeteria and poked my head in the kitchen.  A dozen school cafeteria employees, mostly women, were busy making last-minute preparations for the second day of the school year.  I was directed to Mr. Sparrow, a thirty-year veteran of the food service industry.  He explained the task at hand and I, along with another volunteer named Hale, got ready for the first wave of students.

“It aint going to be easy,” Mr. Sparrow told me.  “You’ve got to make sure they have a balanced meal that includes vegetables, a protein, a fruit and a grain.”  Sounds easy enough, right?

Although most students chose the standard school meal, probably about 60 or 70 lined up to make a salad.  Freshly prepared that morning, the salad bar looked delicious.  Although students could choose from fresh romaine, arugula and endive, most stuck with the standard romaine lettuce.  Zucchini sticks weren’t very popular either, despite my sales pitch to the young people. Turkey ham, eggs, bacon bits and ranch dressing were the hot items.

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This young man made the healthiest salad I saw all day - all on his own! (photo: Reed Sandridge)

“Sir,” called out Mr. Sparrow to an upperclassmen dressed in the standard blue shirt and beige pants, “I need you to take a piece of fruit with you.”  The student pushed back some saying that he wasn’t going to eat it.  In the end he reluctantly grabbed a shiny red delicious apple and went on his way.  This type of scenario played out about half the time.  Sometimes they were missing fruit, other times they had loaded up on just meat and almost nothing else.  Stern yet compassionate, Sparrow and his team work with the students to get it right.  I secretly wondered where they found the patience to do this every single day.

An altercation erupts in the cafeteria courtyard and the half-dozen police officers on hand in the cafeteria quickly defuse it.  The experienced kitchen staff is unphased; just another day.

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Mr. Sparrow (right) gives some coaching to the students on their salad preparation. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Overall it was a good experience.  It had been a while since I had been in a school cafeteria.  Although I applaud Ballou and DC Public Schools for taking on this initiative, I believe they will need additional help to make this work properly.  Just keeping the salad bar looking presentable is a full-time job for one worker who was busy restocking and cleaning up spilled toppings.  They need someone for the foreseeable future helping students build a healthy lunch.  As students head back to school tomorrow, the volunteers won’t be there anymore and I am afraid Mr. Sparrow and his team will be stretched too thin.

Check out this video that DC Public Schools put together to help volunteers learn how to build salads that qualify under USDA guidelines as a school meal.  I thought it was pretty good!

Here is a link to some other photographs that I took.  I will have more uploaded later this week.

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Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC

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Students at Let's Get Ready's Career Day in New York City (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Although his eyes seemed to dance around the room, I would later learn that Antoine was indeed paying attention.  Seated at a small table on the third floor of Robert F. Wagner Middle School on New York’s East Side, the soon to be high school junior’s mind was aldreay dreaming of places far beyond the walls of room 302 this past Saturday.

Antoine was attending Let’s Get Ready’s Career Day.  It’s a day that gives a diverse mix of high school students the opportunity to learn about a variety of careers from about 50 professionals who volunteered their time to share their knowledge with more than 250 young people who attended.  Founded in the summer of 1998 by Jeannie Lang Rosenthal, an undergrad at Harvard, Let’s Get Ready is a nonprofit organization serving communities in and around New York City and Boston whose mission is to expand college access for motivated, low-income high school students by providing free SAT preparation and college admission counseling.

“You think that one day I could have a job like you,” the young man from west Bronx asked me after I finished my presentation.

“Absolutely.  How are your grades?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked him trying to get a sense of how he was doing in school.

“Well, last year I did real good: an A and mostly B’s.”

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Students took a personality assessment to help determine possible careers to explore. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

The 16-year-old, whose real name I changed to Antoine for this article, is one of 3.1 million young people this year who will be faced with the decision of whether or not to attend college after high school.  If you evaluate his situation based solely on drive, there is no doubt in my mind that he will go on to college.  He’s thirsty to know more and asked several excellent questions during the seminar.

I co-led a variety of sessions focused on helping the students understand their career interests through a personality assessment, interactive sessions about college, and tips on how to build and maintain a professional network so that they can land a job after college.  Originally I was only to be a speaker at the half day workshop, however, when their photographer wasn’t able to make it, I offered to stand in and try to capture some visual images of the day as well.  Click here to see the images I captured from Career Day.

The thermometer nearly broke the century mark that afternoon and there was no air-conditioning in the room that I was assigned to.  Exhausted and covered with sweat, I wrapped up my session and headed to the closing session in the main auditorium.  I got the chance to meet and exchange business cards (Let’s Get Ready supplied the students with cards that they filled out to serve as business cards for the day) with dozens of tomorrow’s leaders.

It was inspiring to talk with them and hear their dreams.

“I want to be a pediatric oncologist.”

“I want to be a social worker.”

“I want to work in television.”

“I want to start my own organization to help underprivileged kids.”

“I want your job!”

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photo: Reed Sandridge

After the event was over I stayed and spoke with several young people who patiently waited to introduce themselves to me.  I hope they all keep in touch, I will be checking in on them periodically too to see how things are going.  When the last student had left, I grabbed my bags and headed for the front doors.  Now dim and voiceless in the school, the heavy metal doors rumbled as they gave way to a sun-drenched sidewalk filled with the sounds of the Big Apple.

The success of Let’s Get Ready depends greatly on volunteers and donations.  If you would like to support this organization and help prepare our next generation of leaders, please visit their website and get involved!

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