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SEPTEMBER 19, 2019

ADVOCATING FOR A BETTER SCHOOL LUNCH IN PHILADELPHIA

a GLOBAL SCHOLARS Teacher DESCRIBES HOW HER STUDENTS REALIZED “tHEY HAVE POWER”

By Janene Hasan
STEM and Career Technical Education Specialist; Global Scholars Teacher
Southwark School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ms. Hasan shared the story of her students’ Community Action Project at an international gathering of Global Scholars educators in New York.

Ms. Hasan shared the story of her students’ Community Action Project at an international gathering of Global Scholars educators in New York.

This program provides my students and me with the ability to influence the world through action in our community. 
— Janene Hasan

In Philadelphia, teachers and students are accustomed to having just the bare bones, sometimes not even that, often lacking essentials such as pencils and paper. Our buildings are in such disrepair that the state of our toxic schools was recently featured on CNN. It is was in this climate that I embarked on starting a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program from scratch at Southwark Elementary School. As I was grasping for resources, my principal forwarded me an email from a program called Global Scholars. When I read the curriculum overview, I wasn’t expecting much; it honestly sounded too good to be true, especially considering it came with no cost, but since school was about to start and I did not even have desks or chairs in my room yet, I went for it.

Fast forward four years. We wrapped up another successful year with Global Scholars in June and I just can’t wait to dive into a new one. This program provides my students and me with the ability to influence the world through action in our community.  We have power and access beyond the lead paint on the crumbling walls, lack of materials, violence-stricken streets and poverty. I now connect regularly with educators across the globe, deepen my understanding of STEM concepts and have a platform to learn more about my city and its connection to the rest of the world. My students have access to high-quality curricula, authentic English writing practice with their peers in other countries, and the understanding of global issues in the context of STEM in their local area. It also gives them the power to understand how these issues affect peers around the world and the ability to change their local communities for the better.

Last year, through Global Scholars, we learned about global food systems and took a survey of our neighborhood food access. We found that we lived in a neighborhood full of small corner stores selling processed, unhealthy, packaged foods. Fresh, prepared foods were nowhere to be found. The students realized that this problem extended to their school lunches as well. The meals they were served every day in the cafeteria were processed, packaged, full of plastic, and in their words:  unappetizing. They decided they wanted better, fresher lunches.

This tweet earned a reply from the mayor and eventually led to a meeting with school representatives and the food service vendor.

This tweet earned a reply from the mayor and eventually led to a meeting with school representatives and the food service vendor.

Students created teams within our classroom: publishing, community outreach, research, data, documentary and public relations.

They collected data on student opinions about the food, took daily photos of the lunches, wrote a petition demanding restoration of the school’s full service kitchen, participated in preparing fresh recipes, visited an urban farm, and recruited parents to be involved. They presented their ideas to our principal, who encouraged them and provided input.

“Change is slow; my students truly understand that now. But they also now know they have the power to be heard and to be drivers of change.”

We also decided to tweet Mayor Jim Kenney from our classroom twitter account to see what he thought about school lunches. The students were floored when the mayor replied. Their concerns got back to our principal; the food service vendor offered to meet with our students. As a class, we decided we would meet with them. However, we wanted to include other experts in the conversation. We therefore planned a “Southwark School Lunch Forum.” We invited folks from around Philadelphia to attend our forum including people from the Mayor’s Office, our school lunch vendor, food operations from the school district and the Philadelphia Department of Health. At the forum, students presented their survey, the data they collected, and their research on the lunches offered by more affluent school districts and neighboring schools with full service kitchens. They concluded by providing their recommendations for improving our school lunches. Then, our guests expressed their thoughts on what the students had presented. 

Janene Hasan’s students reached out to the community to gain support for their request for better lunches at their school.

Janene Hasan’s students reached out to the community to gain support for their request for better lunches at their school.

Change is slow; my students truly understand that now. But they also now know they have the power to be heard and to be drivers of change. One result of this forum was that our school lunch vendor invited our school to participate in a program called “VIP Tasters.” Students had a chance to try out new food from the vendor, give feedback about what they liked and didn’t like, and suggest what the vendor should put on our school’s menu. And though students did not see an immediate change while they attended Southwark, they now better understand the workings of government and the process of decision making.  We discussed how their actions build momentum toward improving healthy food options at Southwark, and how their younger siblings, cousins, and even their own children will benefit.

Four years ago we started with basically nothing. We have fundraised for computers and STEM tools for our classroom, but the Global Scholars curriculum and connections with global peers remain by far one of the most valuable things in my classroom. My students have the vision to see how global issues relate to local systems, and, most importantly, the power and hope that their actions will make a change.


Self-Efficacy is one of 9 learning outcomes described in Evaluating Global Digital Education: Student Outcomes Framework, co-published by Global Cities, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and OECD.

Read more about global digital exchange and student learning outcomes.

Global Scholars is operated by Global Cities, Inc., a Program of Bloomberg Philanthropies. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobalCitiesOrg