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 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