October is Growing Healthy Schools Month in Washington, D.C.! During this month, we set aside time to celebrate all the ways in which the District of Columbia focuses on health and wellness in schools.

This year, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the administering agency for all D.C. schools, chose the theme “Recover, Reconnect, Refresh” as a way to revitalize student well-being, as well as their connection to fellow students, teachers, their community, and schools.

We encourage D.C. public schools, D.C. public charter schools, and participating private schools along with their students, to take a pledge to “recover, reconnect, refresh” by participating in an activity each week. Schools can complete the participation pledge here or submit proof of participation using this link.

Growing Healthy Schools for All

An important part of Growing Healthy Schools includes school nutrition. Participating in school lunch ensures students in the District receive a nutritious meal to fuel their health and learning. Research has shown that access to school meals improves a students’ overall health and wellness. Nationally, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) reports as of school year 2021 more than 1.3 billion school lunches were served. In the District of Columbia, school lunch supports almost 100,000 students, serving hundreds of meals daily.

Healthy School Meals for All in D.C.

D.C. public schools, participating D.C. public charter schools, and private schools continue to offer free breakfast to all D.C. students at designated Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) schools. For schools that do not qualify for community eligibility, Healthy School Meals for All provides an opportunity to serve school meals to all students at no cost, regardless of income.

When making the case for Healthy School Meals for All in D.C. , we must discuss the state of hunger in the District. In 2021,  s that 29 percent of Latinx households with children and 21 percent of Black households with children, experienced food insufficiency. These households attested to having more difficulty accessing necessary food resources. However, households with children were able to receive free school meals due to the implementation of USDA’s COVID-19 school meal waivers.

Following the end of federal waivers on June 30, 2022, families of students attending D.C. public schools and D.C. public charter schools, as well as families of students attending eligible private schools, had to resume paying for school meals unless their student attends a Community Eligibility Provision school or they have completed the Free and Reduced Priced Meal application determining free school lunch status. This further exacerbates the difficulty families with low incomes may encounter when paying for school meals, thus increasing childhood food insecurity.

Healthy School Meals for All allows families to remain confident  their student is receiving a healthy and nutritious meal as part of key education and health supports. This also eliminates the stigma associated with free and reduced priced meals as students will no longer be subject to shame or bullying as a result of free school lunch. Students would receive equal treatment during school mealtimes. Additionally, Healthy School Meals for All helps alleviate the administrative burden nutrition staff may experience when operating school meal programs.

Growing Healthy Schools Food Champions

Growing Healthy Schools is not only an opportunity to celebrate the success of school meals and highlight the importance of initiatives such as Healthy School Meals and Farm to School, but it’s a chance to honor the school nutrition staff – foodservice managers and directors, chefs, cafeteria managers, nutritionists/dieticians, menu planners, vendors, and many more! The success of school lunch is due largely in part to those who are dedicated to serving and administering school lunch to thousands of D.C. students.

Farm to school also plays a key role in Growing Healthy Schools, and because this month is also Farm to School Month in D.C., we’d like to honor all of our Farm to School Champions. Is someone at your school is a champion for the farm to school movement? If so, nominate them for the Farm to School Champion Award! A Farm to School Champion could be a teacher, administrator, student, parent, or community member like a farmer who supports farm to school activities at your school. Award nominations can be submitted by using this link. The virtual awards ceremony will take place on November 16, 2022.

For more information, please contact LaMonika Jones, Anti-Hunger Program and Policy analyst at (202) 986-2200 ext. 3003 or ljones@dchunger.