MS 57 Students at Work

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Throughout the semester, MS 57 students worked hard reporting, writing and doing field work to gather audio, video and photos.


Video: MS 57 Students Grade Their School Cafeteria

MS 57 Students Grade Their Cafeteria from The News Literacy Project on Vimeo.

By MS 57 NLP Students

New York City school cafeterias are inspected on a regular basis by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, but MS 57 students wanted to do a little inspecting of their own. The following video report was a collaborative effort of the News Literacy Project, the after-school students at MS 57 and Bloomberg News journalist fellows Ellen Braitman, Dave Coffin, Lori Hoffman and Mick Reed.

During lunchtime at PS/MS57 more than 700 hungry students come through the cafeteria. As we continue our investigation into school lunches, we’re taking a page out of Mayor Bloomberg’s book, conducting our own health inspection of the school lunchroom.

We started out by talking to Hassan Tucker, one of the school lunch aids. We asked him if he and the rest of the kitchen staff are following the proper procedures to clean the kitchen.

“It’s cleaned every day. Bleach, get everything clean, sanitized, said Hassan Tucker.

In New York City, school cafeterias are inspected on a regular basis by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Article 81 Cover PageThe cafeteria workers at MS 57 must follow the same rules as all other food establishments in the city. Rules outlined in Article 81 of the city’s Health Code.

“Health policy describes cleanliness as bleach, sanitize all of the tables, wash the tables off, make sure that all the dishes are clean and sanitized and we’ve got to make sure all the food is off the floor like six inches and basically just following all the rules,” said Tucker.

We saw cafeteria workers scrub the salad bar and lunch tables between lunch periods.

The most recent health inspection report shows the cafeteria passed with flying colors.

“Zero, we didn’t have any violations. This school is like one of the best schools.”

This hasn’t always been the case. A report from January of 2010 says an inspection found “vermin activity” and fruit flies. But don’t worry: notes show these were resolved. Even Tucker admits the cafeteria record wasn’t always perfect.

“It’s been in the past, but nothing serious. Mostly when the health department comes in, they just want to find something to make sure the kitchen doesn’t get a good grade,” said Tucker. “It makes them look bad if

The latest health inspection report for PS 57 shows no violations.

The latest health inspection report for PS 57 shows no violations.

they can’t find anything. It makes them feel like they’re not doing their job.

Cafeteria workers wouldn’t let us into the kitchen without first putting on a hairnet. And even then we only got as far as the serving area, where we saw workers wearing gloves and hairnets, as outlined in the code.

We asked Benjamin Kilinski, the school nurse, if he’s ever heard of a student getting sick from cafeteria food.

“If someone gets sick from eating, it’s not always clear exactly where it comes from,” said Kilinski. “You make an educated guess, but I haven’t come across someone getting sick from eating the lunch.”

Kilinski said students should take their health into their own hands – by washing them before they eat.

“The most important thing for people to do is be washing their hands before they handle food,” he said. “And the same thing would be for you before you eat lunch, you wash your own hands because you can get yourself sick from things on your own skin when your eating.”

That’s a great idea! If only the sinks in the cafeteria had soap! When we went to wash our hands before lunch, we found water, but no soap and no sanitizer.

So all in all, how would we rate the school cafeteria? We give it a B.


Audio: School Lunches Just Got Healthier, But Are They Better?

IMG_0226By MS 57 NLP Students

The 2012-2013 school year marks the implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 at public schools across the country. The act updates the nutrition guidelines for all meals covered by the National School Lunch Program. But are lunches at MS 57 any better? As we found out in our reporting, that depends on whom you ask. The following radio report was a collaborative effort of the News Literacy Project, the after-school students at MS 57 and Bloomberg News journalist fellows Ellen Braitman, Mary Childs, Shannon Pettypiece, Alex Sherman and Carole Zimmer.

To address the obesity crisis and make school lunches healthier, the government is rolling out changes to the national nutrition guidelines for the first time in 15 years. But you wouldn’t know it from the food served at MS 57. We asked students of they’ve noticed a change.

“I think it’s healthier that they’ve giving new foods, but I think they should start changing a little big more,” said Destiny Vega, a 4th grader at MS 57.

“Today we’re eating pizza and if — like you see it — it has oil in it and like grease,” added another student.

“The only thing that has gotten healthy is the lettuce, the carrots and the stuff inside,” said Zayda Amid, referring to the cafeteria’s new salad bar at the school.

“They’re putting more vegetables on the plate and more salad so you can eat them,” said Giovani Pantalone.

The new standards, developed by the US Department of Agriculture, call for twice as many servings of fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and less bad fats, sugar and salt.

Hassan Tucker, a school lunch aid at PS/MS 57, said the changes make it harder to give kids food they will eat.

“Since they cut a lot of the food that we used to serve, they serve mostly the food that the kids will like,” he said. “That’s why you see us repeating things over and over.”

When given a choice between limp steamed vegetables or fresh ones from the salad bar, the kids we spoke to said they would rather eat just about anything else on their plate.

“Mozzarella sticks,” said Destiny Vega.

“I would like burgers, because they are really tasty and they’re good,” said Giovani Pantalone.

“Like the pizza, that’s my favorite food. The chicken wings. I love them. And the cheese sticks,” added another student.

After lunch on a recent school day, evidence of what kids will and won’t eat is everywhere. The garbage is filled with lettuce and there is broccoli on the floor. There’s not a mozzarella stick in sight.

Benjamin Kilinski, the school nurse at PS/MS 57, said he’s not surprised kids aren’t eating their vegetables.

“If the options that you have are things like fatty foods that we also really enjoy, you’re more likely to eat them and if they weren’t there you might not eat them at all,” he said.

The school’s principal, Lorraine Hasty, says one way to improve school lunches is to get kids to weigh in.

“They haven’t done it this year, but in the past – I work with the food committee –  at certain lunch times, they would try new items to add to the menu,” she said. “They would allow children to do taste tests. They would have a little card where they would mark like a thumbs up, thumbs down if they like it to get the opinion from students.”

Rozanne Gold, award-winning chef and author of Eat FRESH Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs, couldn’t agree more.

“I think part of the problem is it’s the government who’s telling us how to eat and what we should be serving in our cafeteria,” she said. “And I think we need to talk more about taste and flavor and how delicious things can be. Right? My goal in this book was to prove that you could make healthy food and have it be delicious. So I worked with teen chefs… and I think what made everyone so excited was that I really listened to what they had to say.”

When Gold talks about food, your mouth can’t help but water.

“We have mac ‘n cheese,” she said, showing us a picture in her teen cookbook. “But wait a minute, my macaroni and cheese is made with a sauce that’s processed with cauliflower and roasted red peppers. Now, can you see the picture of this? Doesn’t it look like it has a ton of fattening oozy cheese in there? But it doesn’t. The sauce is basically made from vegetables.”

Now that sounds tasty and nutritious! But with just $1.06 to spend on each school lunch, it’s unlikely MS 57 chefs will be serving up Gold’s recipes on our plates any time soon.

What Is the Real Cost of Lunch Waste?

IMG_0045By Joshleen

Have you ever thought about how much waste students produce each day in the cafeteria?

According to Mildred Martinez, a cafeteria worker at MS 57/James Weldon Johnson Leadership Academy, middle school students produce three very large bags of garbage each day after lunch. That doesn’t even include all the students in pre-K through fifth grade at PS 57. Adding up all the grades, that’s about 30 bags of garbage being thrown out every lunch.

SchoolFood serves over 850,000 meals to New York City’s 1.1 million students each school day, so imagine how much garbage that is.

When we looked at the garbage outside the cafeteria, we saw that the majority of the waste is Styrofoam plates, which do not decompose, so they will be here forever.


Styrofoam plates fill the garbage after lunch.

“Students produce over 700 trays a day each period we give a meal,” said Martinez.

When Jeanine Romeo, a teacher at MS 57, was teaching fifth grade, she tried to convince the principal at the time to switch to biodegradable plates. Her class was doing a unit on global warming and studying eco-friendly businesses in New York City. At a local pizzeria, they found out there are plates made out of sugar cane that would decompose in a month. As it turned out, these plates were available through the Department of Education.

“We asked Mr. [Israel] Soto, ‘if the DOE has an alternative to Styrofoam, why aren’t we using it?” said Romeo. “And he said they were too expensive.”

Styrofoam plates cost 3 cents each, according to, a project of the Fund for the City of New York. According to Romeo, the sugar cane plates cost closer to 52 cents each. Multiply those costs by the 721 students eating lunch at PS/MS 57 each day and you get $21.63 versus $374.92 for plates every day. That’s a big difference.

With a quick Google search, we found biodegradable sugar cane plates for as little as 25 cents, but that’s still a big difference in cost.

Recently, in effort to help cut down on the garbage, the DOE decided to use paper plates one day a week.

By contrast, in India, according to a recent article on Huffington Post, instead of a Styrofoam plate, students eat off a very big leaf. This is good for the community because the leaf can decompose so that there is less garbage.

It’s unlikely New York City school kids will be eating off of leaves any time soon. The chance we have of reducing waste here at MS 57 is if the cost of biodegradable plates comes down.

Kids: No More Greasy Snacks or Candy in Schools!

IMG_0095By Dillan

Greasy food and candy in schools is a major problem because kids need to eat healthy food as well as healthy snacks.

When I interviewed some students at MS 57, some said that unhealthy snacks are not good for kids because they won’t have any energy if the keep eating these types of foods.

Some examples of unhealthy snacks include potato chips and even fruits snacks because they have a lot of added sugar. When you look at the labels on Doritos, for example, some of the ingredients include sugar, artificial color, salt, and vegetable oil. There are 140 calories and 8 grams of fat, or about 8% of the recommended daily fat intake for middle school students.

The list of ingredients in a bag of Lays potato chips also include vegetable oil, an artificial oil that has a negative impact on the body.  One serving has 160 calories and 10 grams of total fat.

When the News Literacy Project students, including myself, interviewed Rozanne Gold, chef and author of Eat FRESH Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs, one of the students, asked “What type of chips do you recommend us to eat?”

“I would recommend you eat fresh vegetable chips,” Gold said. “I think you love chips because they go ‘crunch,’ right? Because texture is a very important part of why we like a lot of foods and the reason why I’m suggesting fresh vegetable chips is that they go ‘crunch,’ too.”

Gold’s chips are homemade.

“If you take a carrot and you peel it and you roll it in a circle and you stick a toothpick in it and you put it in cold water over night and you take the toothpick out, it becomes like this curly cue,” said Gold, describing how she makes vegetable chips. “If you make a whole bucket of those, they taste better than potato chips, and you can put a little salt on them if you want. They’re so crisp and crunchy and this is a natural food product.”

Gold also recommends that instead of eating a whole bag of chips, just eat six.

Connecting School Lunches to the National Obesity Crisis


By Justin

Hector Dominguez, a 6th grader at MS 57/James Weldon Johnson Leadership Academy, says school lunches are ‘’unhealthy’’ and they are contributing to obesity.

Obesity is a major problem around the world and especially in the United States. Almost a third of kids in America are obese or almost obese. As this problem is growing more people are helping, such as First Lady Michelle Obama, who created the ‘’Let’s Move!” campaign.

‘’Two years ago, when I stared ‘Let’s Move!’, I wanted to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in our generation,” said Obama.

The US Department of Agriculture is also trying to make kids healthier. With the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, new nutritional guidelines call for “more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, less salt, less fat, and monitored calorie limits,” in school meals.

In New York City, these new guidelines were introduced to principals in a letter from Eric Goldstein, the CEO of the Office of School Support Services.

“SchoolFood has installed over 1,000 salad bars in NYC schools and has reduced the sodium, fat, and cholesterol in our menu items, eliminated trans fat as well as artificial colors and flavors and taken steps to remove high fructose corn syrup from our products,” Goldstein said in the letter.

A large percentage of the week students eat school lunches. A typical school lunch at PS/MS 57 is often hamburgers, French fries, chicken nuggets, and other not-so-healthy foods. So we asked Benjamin Kilinski, the school nurse, if he thinks school lunches could be causing obesity.

“I would think that the school lunches that are provided should be healthy so that it’s at least one meal that you get healthy options, but you have two other meals that you would eat in a day also, so those matter, too,” he said. “So you can’t really say that that’s a cause, but it would be concerning to me if it’s unhealthy because it’s a consistent part of your diet during the week.”

We asked Principal Lorraine Hasty whether school lunches were a priority for her.

“It is important to me in terms of the nutritional value of the food that children are being served in the lunchroom,” she said. “I do have many issues that I do have to deal with so I’m not putting it on the back burner, but it’s not the first priority’.”

What Is the National School Lunch Act?

IMG_0210By Momina

The National School Lunch Act is a federal law passed in 1947 with Richard B. Russell, Democratic Senator of Georgia, as its chief sponsor. It was made to provide nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to the nation’s public school children.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) donates cash subsidies to the school to show their support. In return for the USDA’s support, the school must serve nutritional meals each day that meet federal requirements.

According to the National School Lunch Program (also called the National School Lunch Act) schools cannot serve more than 30% of fat in a meal or 10% of saturated fat. However, each meal must have proteins, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium and calories. These are the federal requirements of a school meal if the school participates in the National School Lunch Program. Also, meals must have fruits and vegetables and/or whole grains. Kids must be served all of these things for nutrition.

PS/MS 57 James Weldon Johnson Leadership Academy is a participant in the National School Lunch Program. There, fruits, vegetables and whole grains are served. That is all thanks to the National School Lunch Program. Although not many people think that there should be ONLY fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

”I think it is great that we’re getting all of these healthy foods,” said Marzana Begum, a student at PS/MS 57 James Weldon Johnson Leadership Academy. “But I also think that there should be time for a little dessert once in a while.”

There are some kids at PS/MS 57 who are tired of getting the same food each week and want more than just fruits and vegetables.

If you want to learn more about the National School Lunch Act and how kids around the world are reacting to it, check out


Healthy School Lunches Campaign Helps Kids Get Healthy

IMG_0079The Healthy School Lunches Campaign is a campaign that improves the food served to children in schools by educating government and school officials, food service workers, parents and others about food choices best able to promote children’s current and long-term health.

“Food served in schools should promote the health of all students,” according to the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine.

The Healthy School Lunches Campaign is affecting many schools around the U.S.A. It is helping hundreds of student lose weight and avoid diabetes. It helps people be healthy in schools.

The Healthy School Lunches Campaign says that menus are too high in cholesterol and saturated fat and low in fiber, nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. They encourage the health of the nation’s youth, and aim to reverse obesity, early onset diabetes, and hypertension by encouraging healthy food choices. They also encourage healthy, low-fat, cholesterol-free options.

The campaign works with school districts across the country including New York City schools, organizes meetings, and presentations, Parent Teacher Association meetings, and student groups. It can provide marketing materials, meal planning, recipe ideas, and other materials.

For more information, check out Health School Lunches Campaign.

MS 57 Students Visit Bloomberg News


Students take notes during a tour of Bloomberg LP.


By Justin

A group of MS 57 students participating in the News Literacy Project’s after-school program took a field trip to Bloomberg News in midtown Manhattan on March 1. There, the students got to meet the journalists volunteering with the program, including many of the students’ mentors. Students snacked on bags of popcorn while watching a workshop on how to conduct an interview, led by the bureau chief Karen Toulon.

Students then got a tour of the building. They learned that the building has a spiral escalator — one of just eight in the world.

The group enjoyed themselves so much that a student from the program named Lizbeth Morales said “I want to come back.”

Luckily Lizbeth and the rest of the journalism group will get the opportunity to return on June 18 when they will present their journalism project to the journalist volunteers.