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Creating for Cafeterias

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Overview

This guidebook provides a journey map for generating and incorporating student-led art in the cafeteria. It is designed for high school students interested in improving their cafeteria experience, as well as teachers, administrators, and other sponsors who wish to support this effort.

Introduction

School Cafeterias are all too often uninspiring spaces comprised of blank cinder block walls and antiquated folding tables. Students sit banquet style, trying to cram in as much social time as possible between mouthfuls of home-packed food or processed lunches during their 30 minutes of freedom. The shortness of the lunch period and the number of students in the room creates a noisy and chaotic environment, one that requires constant supervision from school staff. In the American public school system, this room is not a place of education, aesthetics, or even health, it is a space of necessity and efficiency. Students must eat during the school day, but what and how they eat is not part of their education, it is simply a requirement of being human.

 

But it doesn’t need to be this way. Research has clearly shown that improvements in these spaces also improve student health and well-being. And these improvements are not solely related to food. Transforming cafeterias into inviting and inspiring eating environments also provides enormous benefits to students, and even more so when students feel that they have ownership and agency within the space. Instead of a dreary and cold room, imagine a cafeteria that becomes a vibrant gallery for student art, where students can share their cultural identities, stories, artistic skills, and visions. Perhaps these works of art also serve to educate their peers and spark conversations about their food systems, their community, and their environment.

 

Large-scale national programs like the Smarter Lunchroom Movement have not overlooked the positive role student art can play in cafeterias, and include it in their scorecard and metrics for success. However, regardless of the positives, this improvement may be challenging for schools to accomplish. Teachers (and art teachers even more so) are undervalued and underpaid. School administrators have many responsibilities on their plates and may feel disconnected from the cafeteria, particularly when an external food service provider is involved.

This guidebook provides a journey map for generating and incorporating student-led art in the cafeteria. It is designed for high school students interested in improving their cafeteria experience, as well as teachers, administrators, and other sponsors who wish to support this effort.

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