Bringing Big Change to Borrego Springs
Borrego Springs Unified School District (BSUSD) is a unique community. It is surrounded by the Borrego Anzo National Park and is 65 miles from the nearest freeway. During the summer months, Borrego Springs has a population of 3,000 and during the cooler months the population doubles. Despite unique circumstances and challenges, Catherine Paredes, BSUSD Food Services Director, has laid the foundation to help serve the needs of her community.
It all started when the small school district serving just under 400 students committed to drafting and implementing a wellness policy with strongly stated policies and content. BSUSD’s wellness policy is exemplary, especially in the areas of school meals and nutrition and health education policy. Catherine soon realized that gathering support from within the district and community wasn’t going to be easy but would prove to be pivotal.
Support for the district’s wellness initiatives came by way of the Action for Healthy Kids NourishEd grant. With the grant they could purchase cafeteria equipment to increase participation in their school meals and implement nutrition education. With the effects of the pandemic looming over, it was the perfect partnership with an opportunity to address some of the district’s greatest challenges.
Catherine shares how linking policy and programs has benefitted the students and the district.
When school resumed after the pandemic, she noticed an uptake in disruptive behavior in the classroom so she covered how nutrition could influence their life, what foods contribute to our health, energy versus activity level, and how activity level and mood relates to diet. By creating a way to engage with students, Catherine had the opportunity to introduce important topics such as food allergies, activity level and nutrition label reading.
Culturally Responsive School Meal Program
Catherine uses what she knows about the community when preparing menus, so they are as appealing as possible. 80% of the community is Hispanic and all food service staff is Hispanic so Catherine defers to her staff as to what would be the most authentic. Also, monthly she introduces something that would not be as familiar or food from another culture.
Equipped with the AFHK Resource Library, Catherine has been able to share resources that empower this small community to make significant changes to lead healthier lives. Overall, they are more aware and prepared to continue to adjust the future.
Commenting on BSUSD’s plans for the future, Catherine said, “I am continuously amazed at how people keep showing up.”