Weingarten visits innovative Denver nutrition program

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The AFT's 2012 back-to-school tour brought president Randi Weingarten to Denver on Oct. 3 for a stop that focused on political action—the first presidential debate was held in the city that night—as well as a visit to an innovative school nutrition program at a Denver K-8 school.

AFT president Randi Weingarten

Weingarten visited the Cole Arts and Science Academy to get a firsthand look at "Back to the Future with Scratch Cooking," a program supported by the AFT Innovation Fund that motivates nutrition service employees to work together to improve nutrition and the food services in Denver's schools. Food service workers at the school are represented by the Denver Federation for Paraprofessionals and Nutrition Service Employees. (Read more about the program.)

The Denver program, which was jointly designed by the union and the school district, includes an incentive-pay program that provides additional training in nutrition and wellness for school staff, as well as additional compensation for participating in efforts to combat obesity and promote wellness among the students. In addition to helping out on the lunch line serving Cole students, Weingarten enjoyed one of their low-fat, made-from-scratch meals with members and other educators and administrators.

Throughout her career, Weingarten told the group over lunch, she's seen that "teamwork and collaboration always work. What's hard is to create the climate" for collaboration, but it's been accomplished at Cole. The food service workers told Weingarten that parents and students alike have praised the new food offerings and extra choices, which have led to less wasted food and more participation in the meals program.

"This is the connection that people don't always understand: the connection between the other services we provide, such as nutrition, and kids being ready to learn," she said.

Later in the day, Weingarten met with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and stopped by a phone bank at the Colorado AFL-CIO, where union members, local activists and other volunteers were making calls to discuss what's at stake for working families in both local and national elections in November. [AFT press release, Dan Gursky/photo by Ernie Leyba]

October 9, 2012