Moira O'Neill, Professor

Closed (1) Rethinking School Lunch

Applications for fall 2021 are now closed for this project.

School meal programs have historically played a critical role in addressing childhood hunger, and initiatives to improve healthy eating often target school meal programs for improvement. This study has analyzed how school districts of various sizes and in different locations have worked to address food access, health, educational, environmental, and social issues simultaneously through comprehensive school meal program reform. This approach to school meal program reform typically aims to improve the quality of the school meal program (in terms of nutritional content) while also reducing the environmental footprint of their school meal programs by focusing on shifting operations towards a localized food system.

COVID-19 necessitated school closures, which directly impacted how school meal programs continued to serve students who needed access to school food. Some school districts opened Emergency School Food sites to continue to serve school meals. Early reports out of the California Department of Education, for example, indicate school meal participation statewide during initial closures was at 25-60% of normal participation rates. This is considerably higher than typical summer meal participation rates, but in a state where 58% of students qualified for free and reduced priced meals before COVID-19, and pre-COVID-19 students who qualified for free and reduced meals consumed 83% of school meals when schools were open, this suggests participation during school closure did not necessarily meet need. This also invites important questions about how school meal programs have been able to maintain operations during COVID related closures and remote learning. This is not an issue that is limited to California.

This research continues an existing study that explores sustainable meal program changes to now understand how these same school meal programs are adapting operations during COVID-19-induced school closures to reach students in need of school meals. The focus of this work will be on how districts that were previously working towards a more localized sustainable school meal program have been able to adjust operations during COVID-19 closures.

Specific role for the undergraduate (tasks and learning outcomes)
Tasks and outcomes include, but are not limited to:

(1) Students will support transcription of key informant interviews, which will help situate them in the context of the project, the different perspectives on the research topics, and familiarize them with key terms and concepts around school nutrition programs.

(2) Students will support literature review of popular press articles and relevant academic research. They will help with identifying and reviewing relevant sources, particularly those that reflect the changing context of the pandemic and its impact on school meal programs.

(3) Students will assist with coding qualitative data, such as key informant interviews and other key documents in MAXQDA, which will help them build an understanding of how researchers design a coding structure and use it to analyze qualitative data. This will also provide students an opportunity to learn how to use qualitative data analysis software.

(4) Students will assist with mapping/GIS and data visualization as needed, which will provide an opportunity for those who are interested in learning or practicing software and design skills.

(5) Students will participate in at least some meetings with participant school district personnel. This will allow students to observe and understand how researchers may gather input on study aims and methods, while also sharing preliminary findings and analysis, with professionals in the field of study.

Day-to-day supervisor for this project: Raine Robichaud, Staff Researcher

Qualifications: Required qualifications include: (1) Experience or interest in transcribing interviews (2) Experience or interest in researching popular press/journal articles (3) Experience or interest in social sciences, education, or public health research (4) Experience or interest in working with datasets and/or Microsoft Excel (5) Able to commit at least approximately 3 hours a week to remote research activities Desirable but not required qualifications include: (1) Experience with coding in MAXQDA (2) Experience working with data visualization/mapping software including ArcMap or QGIS

Weekly Hours: to be negotiated

Off-Campus Research Site: All activities can be completed remotely, including research team meetings.

Related website:
Related website: