The distinctive smells of the school cafeteria are seared into the childhood memories of many adults, oftentimes with negative or unpleasant emotions attached. This is no less true for the teachers who are tasked daily with shepherding the nation’s children in and out of cafeterias across the country. With the United States Department for Agriculture reporting that nearly three-quarters of school-aged children qualify for free or reduced price lunch, and 50% of children’s daily calorie intake coming from food served in schools, the school cafeteria is the de facto front line in childhood nutrition education.
The Teachers’ Perceptions of their Roles in School Lunch Workshop, designed for K-12 teachers, aims to help teachers play a larger and more positive role in supporting children’s health. Utilizing the unique resources of the Smith Learning Theater, Health and Behavior Studies Department doctoral student Deborah Olarte designed and implemented a three-phase experience in which teachers were taken back in time, a trip evoked by the sounds and smells of the school cafeteria, and asked to reimagine their own childhood experiences, before designing manageable and effective methods for dealing with the negative associations surrounding school lunch. With these small interventions, participants are better equipped to make positive impacts on their students’ health and well-being.