How PS244 Became the 1st U.S. Public School to Institute a Vegetarian School Lunch Program

Today on the show I visit New York’s PS244 – The Active Learning Elementary School — in Flushing, Queens to chat with science teacher and Director of the school’s Wellness and Nutrition Program Christian Ledesma, as well as PS244’s Principal Bob Groff to find out how PS244 became the first public school in the United States to institute a vegetarian school lunch.

But what I pleasantly discovered went well beyond a simple cafeteria upgrade.  PS244’s revolutionary school lunch program is just the latest manifestation of a school founded on principals of wellness.  It’s fair to say that the very fibre of PS244’s  DNA is the promotion of holistic health for kids premised on the advancement of not just the mind, but that of the childrens’ bodies & character.

And it shows.  I saw food being grown in hanging gardens along the playground fences.  Kindergartners making their own granola bars and tasting blackberries in after-school programs.  Even a tower garden in the school library.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the day-to-day goings on at this special institute.

What PS244 has accomplished — seemingly impossible within the confines of a very large & bureaucratic urban school district — is beyond inspiring.  And yet obviously doable when passion aligns with faith and hard work.  The bar is set.  And my hope is that this school’s example will empower other teachers, administrators, principals, parents and students to take greater initiative in their own schools and districts and aspire for positive change.

Special thanks to Amie Hamlin, Executive Director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food.  It was her and this organization, working tirelessly for several years in alliance with the New York Department of Education, that made the impossible real.  My desire was to include Amie in this interview, but she was not in NYC on the day of my visit, so my plan is to interview her for a future podcast episode.  Stay tuned!

Enjoy the show.

Want to learn more about how they did it and/or get involved? See the below links.   And don’t miss the NY Times piece on grade-schooler Zachary Maxwell and his behind-the-scenes exposé short documentary “Yuck!” – it’s amazing.


PS244 Website

PS244 Current School Lunch Menu

New York Coalition for Healthy School Food “NYCHSF”) Website

New York Coalition for Healthy School Food on Twitter: @CoolSchoolFood

New York Coalition for Healthy School Food on Facebook

FAN4Kids, PS244’s Fitness and Nutrition education program

Alliance for a Healthier Generation, who gave PS244 the framework for being a healthy school and has recognized it as one of the healthiest schools in the nation:

Info on Tower Garden in PS244 library.  NOTE: Te tower garden in PS244’s library was donated to the school by NYCHSF via Arthur Field, who works for the company that makes the tower gardens.  Thanks Arthur and Amie!

Woolly Pocket, the garden on the fence in PS244’s backyard

NYC’s Office of School Food, in charge of serving 1.1 million kids

PS244 on Twitter: @PS244Q

Zachary Maxwell & his Documentary “Yuck!”: “The Michael Moore of the Grade-School Lunchroom”


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