Nourishing Learners: A Report on School Meals & Education during COVID-19
During the school closures of the 2020-2021 school year, FoodCorps set out to learn how districts and school nutrition leaders were working together to feed and teach students amid COVID-19. This report reveals both the silver linings and the pain points of the challenges schools faced, and it shares opportunities to strengthen food in schools as children return to school in person. We hope that school districts and the organizations who support them will use this report to have conversations and work toward building a new normal together.
This project was centered on 55 hours of candid conversation with 44 district leaders—superintendents, school nutrition directors, and other administrative leaders—across a diverse profile of 22 school districts nationwide. In the Nourishing Learners report, we reflect on 10 key insights we’ve identified based on those discussions and considering the historical and systemic contexts underlying the conversations. You will also find district voices reflecting on silver linings from the pandemic, permanent changes they would like to make moving forward, and what they would do with a magic wand, as well as other pandemic-specific key takeaways. We conclude by sharing next steps to building what we learned about school nutrition and education during the pandemic in the form of conversation starters for district leaders and recommendations for all school community members.
The pandemic has clarified the many strengths and assets of school nutrition programs nationwide. We’ve seen the heroic ways school district leaders have innovated, collaborated, and moved mountains to ensure students were fed during the pandemic. It also revealed structural challenges school foodservice departments have been facing since long before COVID-19. In many ways, our country has woefully underinvested in our national school meal programs and the remarkable staff who provide meals to millions of students nationwide. Some of these—like our National School Lunch Program— have been around for more than 75 years but have not been supported in evolving to meet changing times. As we emerge from this pivotal period of rapid innovation, learning, and reflection, we have an opportunity to either go back to “normal” or to leverage the moment to both double down on what’s been working all along and invest in promising new ideas where change is needed.