A group of Bartley Elementary School fifth-graders took it upon themselves to better understand school lunches.
Now, they're working to improve their fellow students' satisfaction in the cafeteria.
"We figured that if we make better school lunches, more people will eat them," student Cheyenne Merritt said.
Four student researchers presented their findings to the Fulton Public Schools Board of Education on Wednesday. They're part of one of several small learning groups in their classroom, and lately, their teacher Jess Wright has had them engage in problem-based learning.
"Problem-based learning is solving open-ended problems without a set solution," Wright explained.
Working on those types of problems encourages out-of-the-box thinking, a goal-oriented attitude, communication skills, collaboration and many other positive classroom outcomes, she said. Previously, she's had the students develop a toy and market it to their peers.
Children love toys, but they have even stronger opinions about school lunches, the students found.
Merritt said her group developed a survey in Google Forms, which they distributed to students in third, fourth and fifth grades. Questions addressed current satisfaction (rated one-10, with one being the lowest), favorite meals, the frequency at which students bring their own lunches and more.
"Seventy-eight percent of kids said between one and five on how much they liked the food," student Nate Buckwalter said. "Many people said they wanted more fresh foods in the lunch menu."
Next, the students spoke to FPS Director of Food Services Rhonda Fletcher about the laws and budget issues surrounding school lunches.
Student Ryne Shadbolt said they learned that by law, food must be low-fat and low-sodium, lunches must include whole grains and students must be served dark green vegetables at least once a week. Budget restrictions mean from-scratch lunches aren't as common as students might like.
"She was able to answer a lot of our questions," Shadbolt said.
The group decided the best current solution would be to form a student advisory committee on school lunches, with representatives from each grade.
"That way, the kids could give adults feedback about what the students like and don't like," William Yates said. "We can also explain to the younger kids why their favorite foods aren't always available."
If the advisory committee works well at Bartley, the students hope to expand it to FPS's two other elementary schools. So far, school administration and Fletcher have been supportive, the students said.
"I think this is a good plan," school board member Jackie Pritchett told the students Wednesday evening.