When students at Price Middle School voiced concerns about the school’s food program last year, they employed project-based learning (PBL) to spark system wide change across Purpose Built Schools Atlanta.
Last year, middle and high school students met with Purpose Built Schools’ leadership team to share concerns about daily nutritional options. They conducted surveys, wrote essays and prepared a presentation, including bringing samples of food for leadership to taste.
“These students are empowered change agents who are striving to create a positive, long-lasting impact,” said Keely Sutton, student engagement manager at Price Middle School and who first encouraged and supported the students’ to create a solution. “My students did everything from capturing video, interviewing students/staff, and taking pictures to validate their claim that the school food program should be changed. I’m so proud of these students for using their voices in service to the community, for the greater good.”
Purpose Built Schools’ leadership listened and responded with new menus and a new nutritional program that includes a school breakfast, lunch and snack program that Purpose Built Schools operates autonomously under the Atlanta Public Schools umbrella. Purpose Built Schools purchases its own food and employs staff who are salaried employees with benefits. The organization has been successful in attracting workers who have extensive food service experience and has significantly improved food options for students and staff.
The new program is led by Carolyn Pusey-Wade, director of nutrition, a newly created position for the 2022-23 school year.
Pusey-Wade brings deep experience in retail food services and sales and has held several leadership and management positions. She has a passion for public service and a resiliency fortified by decades of environmental and educational advocacy for communities of color. She is a Veteran of the United States Army where she served as a medical specialist. She also spent over 13 years with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division serving in various positions, including as an Environmental Compliance Specialist. After joining Waffle House in 2013, she was quickly promoted to a Division Manager overseeing operations for nine fast paced 24- hour dining facilities. Prior to joining PBSA, Chef Nana served as Director of School Nutrition for KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools. She is an alumna of Mercer University where she earned a bachelor of arts in organization leadership and a Master of Business Administration in business leadership.
“Food is fuel for our bodies. For brains to work effectively and efficiently, we need nutritious food,” said Pusey-Wade who is affectionately known as Chef Nana at Purpose Built Schools. “Our Purpose Built Schools’ babies are as valuable as my own grandbabies, and they deserve the best! I am committed to making sure our students get the best food that looks good, tastes good and is nutritionally solid. Our students have a voice; and I am committed to listening to ensure we deliver scholar focused menus that meet our school nutrition guidelines.”
With Chef Nana at the helm, the nutrition program aims to:
- Create a welcoming environment in the cafes;
- Increase lunch/breakfast participation with students and staff;
- Create scholar-focused menus through surveys, scholar summits, and taste tests;
- Incorporate Purpose Built Schools farm products in the menu and increase fresh fruits and vegetables; and
- Create a global food experience.
To-date, all the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive with a significant increase in the number of students who eat lunch, particularly among high schoolers where the increase went from 20% to 60%.
Studies show there is a connection between healthy nutrition and academic performance. Regular breakfast consumption, higher consumption of fruit, vegetables, and certain micronutrients, including folate and iron, and lower consumption of junk foods, have all been associated with higher academic achievement. Good nutrition and a balanced diet can help students increase energy levels, promote a functioning immune system, improve their ability to cope with stress, and increase concentration and performance in school.
“This is a wonderful demonstration of students using their voices to affect meaningful change for not only themselves but their broader community. Student voices matter,” said Dr. Nikkita Warfield, Chief Academic Officer, PBSA. “This is a real life example of how students can be change agents and self advocates. The students who attend our schools shouldn’t have to settle for low quality food, and I am so proud they felt empowered to do something about that.”