Parents tell their children to eat their vegetables when they are young, but the students at Hope High School actually asked for them. On Jan. 9, Hope students traded in three days of cafeteria nacho service in exchange for a brand-new salad bar, the first in the Providence Public School District.
The students responsible for the change are members of Hope United, a student group at the high school facilitated by Zack Mezera ’13 and Aaron Regunberg ’12 that focuses on social justice issues at the high school. After brainstorming ideas over the summer, Hope United decided that improving school lunches was a top priority.
“The school didn’t really have any decision in it — it was really the students, and we all really wanted healthy food,” said Marcus Dube, a Hope United member.
Though the school district complies with the Rhode Island Nutrition Requirements, such as serving only whole grains and low-fat and fat-free milk products, some of the more popular lunch options at Hope still included cheeseburgers, pizza and macaroni and cheese, according to a survey conducted by Hope United.
“All the grease and all the fat — it gets you tired,” said Madeline Tobar, a Hope United member. “There was always a deli … but I think that was the healthiest thing they served.”
The group brought their idea to Sodexo, the food service company employed by the school district. The students met with Charlie Santa Cruz, a Sodexo area representative, who told them how the lunch program operates and what Sodexo would be capable of providing to their school.
“You have 90 cents for an entire meal for a student,” said Santa Cruz. “I think it kind of caught them off guard.”
Santa Cruz had to veto some of the group’s requests based on cost concerns. But he agreed to donate a salad bar in exchange for stopping nacho service for three days each week if Hope United proved the change was desired by the student population. The cafeteria still serves nachos twice weekly.
A survey distributed to 400 students at Hope High School found that 92 percent thought that cafeteria lunches could be improved. In a second survey, 66 percent said they were unsatisfied with the vegetables offered, and 73 percent said they would use a salad bar.
The salad bar opened after more than a semester’s worth of work to what Hope United members described as rave reviews.
“First the nacho line was like the biggest line ever … everybody’s onto the salad bar now,” said Jean Rodriguez, a Hope United member.
Santa Cruz said he is pleased with the students’ work, but is more reserved about the project’s prospects. “Everyone is hoping that this succeeds, but as of now that remains to be seen.”
If it remains popular, Sodexo will look to install salad bars at other public schools in Providence, Santa Cruz said.
Meanwhile, members of Hope United are gearing up to tackle a new project — improving the school’s bathrooms.
“Many bathrooms here are disgusting — walls are torn up, there’s not enough tiles, the doors won’t function right, there’s not enough supplies there,” said Rodriguez.
Mezera said he and Regunberg will also help to spread their student activism program to other high schools in the Providence district. They are planning a joint meeting between the schools at the start of the next academic year.