Wellness in the Schools has grown exponentially in the past few years, thanks to demand from across the country. With roots in a tiny classroom in New York City, the organization has expanded to California, Florida, New Jersey, and now Washington D.C.. We are entering our second year in our nation’s capital, and our partnership with DC Public Schools (DCPS) continues to grow stronger.
Our partnership started with the 2018-2019 school year, with Annie Hanrahan (a former NYC WITS Chef!) spearheading the effort. We were asked to come to Washington D.C. by FRESHFARM FoodPrints, who were already partnered with DC Public Schools Food & Nutrition Services. The FoodPrints program integrates gardening, cooking, and nutrition education into the school curriculum, with the ultimate goal of improving health outcomes of children and families. While they had a strong presence in schools by teaching children to cook healthy and delicious recipes, they needed support to bring these recipes to the cafeteria. Thus, Wellness in the Schools stepped in, bringing our CookCamp (school cook training) expertise to the cafeteria.
We started small – just four schools – but that expanded to eight by Winter of 2018. And it didn’t take long for DCPS started to notice Wellness in the Schools. We are now in 10 schools in partnership with FoodPrints as part of their Class-to-Cafe program, which includes one scratch-cooked day per week at each school, with the menu reflecting what the students are learning in the classrooms. Says Annie, “Our partnership with FoodPrints is really awesome – it’s so unique working with a partner so closely. Everything we do is in tandem, and we make sure that their classroom work is being translated into the cafeteria as fully as possible.”
In addition to these 10 schools, DCPS contracted us to manage two new self-operating schools for the 2019-2020 school year. Our role in these two schools is to manage and assist in the cafeteria kitchens with the school food staff, and manage them in a coach-teach-train model to help the move to self-operating be as sustainable as possible. Our WITS Manager Chelsea oversees breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Our goal is to move all three meals to more scratch-cooked, in collaboration with DCPS.
Over the summer, Wellness in the Schools brought CookCamp training for the entire kitchen staff at each self-operating school. Says Annie, “CookCamps are really just incredible. I think that is where we really get the buy-in from the staff. It has shown the value of what we can do, and it is an incredible team-building and engaging experience with cafeteria staff. We give them a platform for their voice as well, which I think is so important.”
Looking ahead, we will be starting WITS Labs in D.C. for the first time this year. We will continue to conduct WITS Tastings in the cafeteria, and are looking forward to hosting WITS Cafe Days as well.
While this relationship with DCPS is still fairly new, it has been a positive one. Says Rob Jaber, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at DCPS, “It has been an absolute pleasure and honor to join you in this journey. The gains are real, and now measured – students are increasingly excited about eating healthier options at school, and we’re hearing them tell the stories of how those same recipes are now coming into their homes to make with the family. This work matters. I look forward to continuing this work with you all.”
Check out an incredible video of our work, highlighting the power of our partnerships, here.