In the agreement, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) committed to stop transitioning schools from cooking to “warming” kitchens with the exception of one school. Additionally, CPS will be soliciting input from lunchroom workers in the form of a monthly “Good Food Committee” and a bi-annual survey for all lunch staff. The Good Food Committee will consist of five lunchroom workers and five CPS employees and will be dedicated to discussing issues related to food service. Finally, each lunchroom worker will receive two full days of training in how to prepare fresh, healthy, appetizing and sustainable food.
I’m encouraged by the actions of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to acknowledge and answer the demands of lunchroom workers. I think that by addressing workers’ concerns, they recognize how valuable lunchroom staff is to each and every school. I could not do my job if it weren’t for school cafeteria workers’ dedication to feeding the students and helping them prepare for a day of learning. There’s a video on realfoodrealjobs.org that I think speaks to all that lunchroom workers do — from the mouth of a woman who has been a lunch lady for 12 years. Lunchroom workers provide more than just food to the kids. They provide a stable presence in students’ lives and are often the first people that kids see when they enter a school building. Additionally, lunch staff are some of the few adults in the school that kids interact with every day who don’t give them a letter grade.
What I have learned from my experience at different schools with lunchroom staff is that they create bonds with some students, usually some of the at-risk youth. Although it’s super brief when a student chats with lunch ladies, those interactions can really support a student who needs a little lifting up in the middle of the day. Sustenance in both food and spirit. Additionally, lunchroom staff wield tremendous power in the school. Admittedly, I’ve been semi-terrified by the lunchroom managers at one of my previous schools and one of my current schools. To be clear, *I’m* scared of them — the kids aren’t. Teacher know they need to stay in the good graces of lunchroom staff or life could be rough for us.
There’s always work to be done, but last week’s announcement about the move towards fresher food made me happy — and it sounds like lunchroom staff members are feeling satisfied with the agreement, which is critical.