A conversation with Julie Garcia, Director of Nutrition
I started at CCUSD in 1997, from there consulted for El Monte USD and Inglewood USD, and returned to Culver City in 2009 becoming the Director of Nutrition. CCUSD is a great district, and I enjoy working here.
What makes CCUSD unique? I’ve never been in a district with so much parental input and care for other children. Our parents are very concerned about the kinds of products that their children are exposed to, and there is a strong inclination towards organic, grass-fed, and vegan options. Often these parents don’t approve of the school lunches, so they make them for their children instead.
Describe your vision for the dining experience: We need increased participation across the board. I want more kids eating breakfast at the elementary school level. I would implement nutrition breaks at the middle school level. It would be a second chance for students who missed breakfast.
We should open opportunities to provide free meals to families in need using help from the PTA or nutrition grants. I have seen parents sit at the table with their school-age children and eat from their plates or share food with a toddler sibling in the stroller. There needs to be a whole different way of claiming funds, using programs like Head Start.
Is the current environment preventing you from achieving your vision, if at all? There needs to be more free and reduced meal plans throughout the district to support lower-income families, but we have lower numbers because some families are fearful of ICE. Nutrition is important to get minds working so students can sustain their learning. La Ballona Elementary School (LBES) is the only campus with a free summer lunch programs, serves an average of 200 total meals daily including 50 to 60 for community kids not enrolled at LBES. That trend will increase. Many kids have negative balances at the end of the year, and it’s absorbed by the general fund. We will never see that money and our profit margin is very small. Higher participation is needed to turn that around.
How should the environment change or look different in the future? The quality of food matters to the students. There was an issue in which the pizza vendor lowered the quality of the pepperoni causing the kids to boycott it until the problem was resolved. At the high school level, we have had students who have tried to change the menu but those that are doing it are seniors. The project needs to start in September and include 9th and 10th graders opposed to just seniors who are on their way out.
Is there value in extending food service to after school? Having Food Service throughout the day is an interesting idea. Visual and Performing Arts, Athletics and Robotics could use that since they spend a lot of time on campus after school. I could see that working for them.