CAMDEN, NJ — Camden City School District education leaders headed back to the classroom this week with an important subject on the board: student nutrition.

As part of a “Bridging the Gaps Between Education, Wellness, and School Nutrition” summit on Tuesday, the city school operations managers and family operations coordinators were audience members for a speaking series on the importance of daily meal programs to student achievement.

The event, held in preparation for the start of school just weeks away, featured guests from the district as well as fellow New Jersey administrators and representatives from state advocacy groups.

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Some of the sub-topics discussed included the school nutrition services in Camden, implementing or extending meal programs, sharing meal strategies and best practices, and understanding the current impact of childhood hunger.

For Arlethia Brown, senior manager of Camden school nutrition, the district’s first-time workshop was ultimately about helping school leaders “to understand what resources and programs are out there.”

“Just bringing everybody to the stage and getting them to have a full understanding of all the resources that are available for students,” said Brown, who helped run the event at the district's administration building in East Camden.

Many of the programs, which aim at addressing morning, summer, and afterschool meals, already exist within the district, Brown said. But not every school may be fully utilizing all the services at its disposal. She said that leaders should remember that program support is provided by Aramark Corporation, the district’s food and facilities partner.

During one of the segments, Adele LaTourette of Hunger Free New Jersey stressed to the Camden administrators they should not only taking advantage of every resource but continue to stand up for the needs of their children.

She highlighted a proposal announced last month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would limit SNAP eligibility. The plan, she said, would result in a loss of benefits for 68,000 New Jersey residents, including 26,000 children.

“So when we talk about school meals, let’s talk about it in light of the fact that, fingers crossed, it’s not currently one of the programs with a target on its back,” LaTourette said. “Let’s talk about it in light of the politics of the day.”

“Reach out to your representative. Let them know who these kids are,” she added. “Let them know the value that they have to you and your community.”

LaTourette said when schools are pushing for program participation, it needs to be considered that the food provided to a student could be “the only meal that they will have during the school day.”

And the administrators should remember, Brown said, that they’re not alone in the effort to help their children. She noted that understanding the needs of the students and helping them to grow and to be successful takes bringing “the community and parents to the table. All of that can’t happen unless we come together.”

Moreover, the district plans to have an event like this annually, in part to help ensure uniformity in the program offerings to children across the district. 

“We actually want to do something else later on in the year to bring everyone back (to the conversation) to kind of see where everyone is,” Brown said, “and to make sure everyone is growing their programs and not just remaining stagnant.”

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