Written by Zoe Weisner
The Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Board of Education has decided to renew the contract with Sodexo, a company that has provided school meals for students in the past six years. This decision is expected to bring a significant amount of changes to the availability and variety of meal options to PAUSD schools starting in June. According to Alva Spence, Sodexo’s Nutrition Services Coordinator, the cafeteria will now open from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and offer assorted meal selections and grab and go items. Gunn will also add five more vending machines across campus.
During the discussion, Superintendent Kevin Skelly felt that Sodexo has been very flexible with suggestions from parents and students. “They are very interested in listening to the students,” Skelly said. The board also felt that searching for a new contractor would be too difficult given the short amount of time before the next school year.
Parent group Rights For Change will be collaborating with Sodexo in order to regulate and suggest changes to the meals. Member Cindy Wenig felt that meal options could be improved. “Gunn’s cafeteria is open for about an hour and a half,” Wenig said. “How can you feed 2,000 students if there isn’t enough time to wait in line?” Rights for Change began with Rebecca Scholl, who wanted to bring the French tradition of tasting week to Gunn.
Tasting week is the celebration of delicious food, and professional chefs visit schools to cultivate the joy of eating. “It was an eye opening experience because we got to try the food, and we were shocked to learn that the cafeteria was only available for a short amount of time,” Scholl said. “We started a deli bar, and it was pretty successful, but we lost traction because the lines became too long and people didn’t want to wait to eat.” Eventually Rights for Change was formed, and currently there are over 100 members.
According to Wenig, this issue has created a strong reaction from parents, but students seem to have little to no opinion on what they eat at school. “There’s good momentum on this matter, but unless we get the students interested we won’t get very far,” she said. Wenig believes that the lack of response from the community is due to several misconceptions. “Everyone is under a bubble; there was a feeling that the students were happy enough with the system and some people are under the illusion that it’s too difficult to change the situation,” Wenig said.
Some Gunn students may also feel that the food served at school may not apply to them because a large amount of the student body goes off-campus during lunch time.
For the students who stay on campus during lunch, the new changes are well-received. “I think it’s great that the cafeteria will be open longer,” junior Anna Castillo said. “Sometimes, the lines during brunch are too long, and then I don’t have enough time to finish my snack.”
Scholl believes that students are missing out on an important experience by not having total access to fresh food. “Everybody looks forward to a good meal,” Scholl said. “Even if you are having a bad da
y, it’s helpful to know that you are going to have at least one good meal.”
The administration has also helped the process to implement changes in the food by supporting a more diverse menu. “I am all for more healthier food options for students,” Assistant Principal Tom Jacoubowsky said. “I want students to feel that they don’t have to go off campus for food.” According to Scholl, Principal Katya Villalobos has been accommodating as well.
In addition, Jacoubowsky thinks that Sodexo has done well providing food options for the campus, and feels that they have also done a consistent job over the past years. “I’m fine with the contract renewal,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of sandwiches from the cafeteria, and I’ve seen a lot of improvemen
t. So far, it seems to be working well.”
Scholl has also been talking with the owner of the Common Grounds Garden, and she hopes that one day there will be a student-run cafe using the ingredients from the garden. “We want to stretch the imagination of students and what they are used to,” Scholl said.