Health and Physical Education Teacher Wendy Carnes brought choosing healthy foods to life by getting local artist Ken Honore to paint a mural on the cafeteria wall at Rosenwald Elementary in New Roads.
Carnes noticed that students often left the fruits and vegetables on their lunch trays untouched. When she asked why, she learned they were unfamiliar with many of the fruits and vegetables they were being served.
Through a mini-grant from the Louisiana Department of Education in partnership with Well-Ahead Louisiana, Carnes has received technical assistance on how to promote healthy eating habits to the 433 students in pre-K through 6th grade, 91% of whom are considered economically disadvantaged. She now incorporates the following to her approach:
- Regularly implementing nutrition education lessons in her Health and PE classes using the Serving Up MyPlate curriculum from the USDA
- Incorporating taste tests into her instruction, offering students a chance to try new foods they were learning about
- Adding decorations and posters to the school cafeteria to raise awareness and promote healthy eating for students and school staff.
As students became more comfortable trying new foods, and their attitudes toward eating healthy started to improve, Carnes was inspired to go big. “I had my [posters] up there and I said, ‘That wall is bare,’” she recalls. That’s when she contacted Honore, whose work she had seen before. “I wanted our kids when they walked in to see…it’s pretty cool to drink milk…and when you eat [fruits and vegetables] they make you strong.”
Honore and a partner painted two murals in the school cafeteria in Fall 2020. “I was excited to do it and be a part [of it], especially since that’s my parents’ hometown,” Honore said.
Throughout the process, Carnes frequently brought her students to the cafeteria so they could see Honore in action and have a chance to ask him questions about being an artist. She felt it was important for students to see Honore utilizing his talents to enrich the community because there is an underrepresentation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in the artistic field. “I wanted them to see who was doing it. I wanted them to see a young, black man doing it [and] just let them know that this is something you can actually do.”
For Honore, the murals were an opportunity to contribute to the community and for professional growth. “That was my first time doing something on that big of a scale. I definitely wanted to take advantage of that learning experience.”
The students were also excited about the mural. “A lot of them wanted to act like they were strong, to [pose with] their muscles up by the milk [and] stand by the broccoli,” Carnes noted.
When students return to eating in the cafeteria in the fall, the mural will be interactive. Students seen drinking their milk will have their picture taken and posted to the wall where the mural says, “Look Who I Caught Drinking Milk.”
The students aren’t the only Rosenwald Trojans enjoying the new look. Carnes reports that the school nutrition professionals working in the cafeteria are loving how warm, fun and inviting the once bare blue and white walls are. The murals have given faculty and staff a greater sense of pride, and the cafeteria has become the place everyone in the school community wants to be.
Schools provide a unique environment to address health inequities. By promoting healthy foods and beverages, offering students non-food rewards and ensuring access to water, school administrators can take the lead in improving the health of their students. Click here to learn more about the ways to foster healthy eating habits for students.