Penny Mclaren 0000-00-00 00:00:00
SNAPSHOT ■ Nutrition education is an essential component in the success of a school meals program. ■ There are many willing partners in the community who are available to help you convey key messages. ■ Creative collaborations can produce programs that have greater resonance with students than traditional approaches. BEFORE COLLABORATION, THERE WAS CHAOS. In many large, urban communities, there are a number of agencies and non-profit organizations whose mission is to help address hunger and nutrition concerns, especially among children. Reasonably, these groups tend to look to the local school district as the most direct channel for reaching their target audience, especially when it comes to offering nutrition education. In Philadelphia, these organizations initially were not working together, reports Joan Nachmani, MS, CNS, SNS, director of nutrition education programs, School District of Philadelphia. “They each went directly to the principals of individual schools and asked to provide nutrition education, rather than go through a central administrator to disperse services,” she recounts. Such a hit-and-miss approach meant that certain schools got the benefit of extra resources and attention, while others in need got no assistance at all. Of course, it was better than what Philadelphia’s school nutrition department was able to offer when Nachmani joined the operation in 1988 as coordinator of dietetic services. She was the sole staff member assigned to conduct nutrition education throughout the district’s 300 schools—and it wasn’t her only job responsibility, either. “I did education on a limited basis,” she concedes. “It was impossible to do it all.” Fast forward to 1999, when Nachmani learned she could secure funding for nutrition education through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In fact, “We could have asked for any amount,” says Nachmani, “as long as our activities fell within the scope of allowable programming.” She settled on a request for approximately $200,000 the first year, and was awarded the grant. It allowed Philadelphia’s FoodServices Division to hire several nutrition professionals to conduct education in the schools. It also provided desperately needed nutrition education for the school nutrition staff . And, it allowed Nachmani to forge new partnerships with several local agencies as community partners . Today, instead of chaos, there is collaboration. And such collaboration has meant that, after working out the specifics, each partner agency got more schools to serve, and more was demanded of them than the previous structure provided—which also meant that they developed terrific rapport at those sites. The school district managed the resources and a combined curriculum for all the partners to use to ensure consistency. Philadelphia serves as a great example of how a school nutrition operation can work with local and federal agencies, non-profits and other entities to creatively meet an important shared goal: better nutrition for kids. And its model can serve as a source of inspiration for school nutrition departments all across the country to use in developing their own effective nutrition education collaborations. Following, School Nutrition presents more details about Philadelphia’s efforts, as well as the creative partnerships found in several other districts. EAT.RIGHT.NOW. is Philadelphia School District’s nutrition education program, which is an official part of the Pennsylvania SNAP education program called TRACKS; as such, it is one of the district’s curriculum-based support programs and because it is federally funded, it has not been subject to the budget cuts suffered by several other school district departments. There are five other partners in Eat.Right. Now., helping to deliver school-level nutrition education: The Nutrition Center of Drexel University, The Food Trust, the Health Promotion Council, the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network and the Urban Nutrition Initiative of University of Pennsylvania. While the program employs a common curriculum, it gives some flexibility to allow the partners to specialize. For example, the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network focuses its education efforts on lower elementary and preschool levels, while Drexel University primarily provides service to the high schools and the Urban Nutrition Initiative prioritizes service to those schools in West Philadelphia neighborhoods. Not all of Philadelphia’s schools are eligible for the full level of nutrition education support. Participating schools, including charter sites, must have a 50% or greater free/reduced-price eligibility rate. Still, even schools with lower eligibility rates can obtain resources through the FoodServices Division or download resources from the website. “We don’t turn anybody away,” insists Nachmani. While the number of schools served by the program fluctuates every year, in 2011-12, the vast majority of district sites, 276 schools, were eligible. The school district is a partner, too, with its own internal staff of educators; 10 staff members are assigned to specific schools to provide nutrition education using the state-approved curriculum. Since they don’t have to develop the program and activities, “All they have to do is concentrate on being good educators,” says Nachmani. She recognizes that if her team didn’t provide the ideas, programs, materials and staff (and partner) support, classroom teachers simply would not be able to teach nutrition lessons. “Everybody is understaffed. The last thing they want to do is manage grants. So, we do it.” Over the last five years, Philadelphia’s nutrition education spending has been in the $9 to $10 million range. The school nutrition department—with its partner agencies—must reapply to renew grant funding every year. All participating schools and partner agencies must follow program guidelines and school district regulations. Funding is already secure for the coming school year, but beyond that, the future is cloudy, should there be any significant changes in SNAP funding in the federal budget. That said, “We are looked at as a model program,” Nachmani points out. “We have been very successful and are one of the largest programs in the state. SNAP has been wonderful for us.” Following are some of the specific components of the Eat.Right.Now. nutrition education program. ■ Chop Chop magazine, a colorful publication that reinforces nutrition lessons. Free to students, the magazine features basic nutrition information, which is incorporated into class instruction, along with recipes used by staff for food preparation demonstrations. Students like to take the magazine home and share it with their parents. It’s also provided to parent groups to encourage them to try the same recipes at home. ■ Assembly programs performed to improve school-wide awareness of nutrition concepts. Four different nutrition-focused programs are offered to participating schools for free. These fun, lively stage presentations incorporate music, magic and other dynamic elements to engage kids in the messages. According to Nachmani, the presentations can bring a gymnasium or auditorium full of kids rockin’ to the beat of such creative lyrics as: “Nature’s candy, nature’s candy, I’ve got a sweet tooth for my favorite fruit!” ■ “Chew This!” television programs produced for the district’s cable network channel. There’s no set schedule for the programs. TV production is conducted inhouse through a studio in the district’s Office of Communications, using Nachmani’s staff, as well as students from the Creative and Performing Arts School. If teachers don’t want to share the program at the time it is aired, Nachmani’s office can provide DVDs that can be replayed at a more convenient time. ■ Workbooks and follow-up materials that tie nutrition education to other classroom lessons. Nachmani has found that if she can provide materials to educate students on certain required teaching units, in areas like science or math, teachers will use those resources. “They can use nutrition to teach other things, like doing division with food portions,” she explains. “We give them all the tools to address a particular teaching standard. You have to be an asset to the teacher.” ■ Gardens funded and established at schools. New guidance from SNAP for Fund Year 2013 allows the federal program to provide funding for the start-up of basic school gardens. So, Nachmani and her team are readying to start some school gardens as part of their nutrition education efforts. Her hope is that eventually the gardens will be used to harvest fruits and vegetables that are served or sampled in school cafeterias. Chefs Move to Schools THE CHEFS MOVE TO SCHOOLS program (now administered by a coalition led by SNA and the American Culinary Federation) was launched in May 2010 as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. It facilitates opportunities between volunteer chefs and schools to team up in helping children foster healthy eating habits. To date, some 3,400 chefs and 3,300 schools across the nation have signed up to participate. Among the successful collaborations that have resulted is a partnership at Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) Schools. Led by district Nutritionist Christina Harley, RD, LDN, the public-private team developed a nutrition education program that volunteer chefs can present in schools. Harley wanted the educational emphasis to be on the fruits and vegetables offered in the cafeteria, as well as the Five-a-Day message. After attending American Culinary Federation meetings and speaking with chefs, she thought they might be receptive to conducting some in-classroom education with students. While several area chefs had signed up to participate in Chefs Move to Schools, it was clear that the partnership could benefit from some structure. “What we had seen was that the chefs and teachers were just doing things randomly,” reports Harley. “We just wanted to make sure that the schools that would benefit the most from chef-led experiences were not overlooked, simply because they might be outside of an area in which the chef worked or lived.” Gathering her volunteer chefs, Harley sat down with them to craft a healthy message to bring to students. “It was a group effort,” she recounts. “The chefs and I developed our program around five characters: Bobby Broccoli, Bradley Blueberry, Claudia Cauliflower, Tommy Tomato and Oscar Orange. Chef Jason Wolf discovered these characters through a cooperative extension agency.” Third-grade classes were the target population. The first presentation was in January 2012, and all the participating chefs took part in that first class, so they could share the experience of learning how to present to students. After that, they visited classes in pairs, sometimes bringing along samples of vegetables, showing kids what items they could choose to eat at school and at home. Sometimes they would stay for lunch and assist children in making healthy choices. “The kids remembered what the chefs said afterward, and would often choose those vegetables,” reports Harley. “It is amazing what kind of impression the white chef’s coat and hat makes on the students. They really get excited to see them, saying, ‘Hello Chef,’ when they see them in the halls. Maybe it is because they have seen celebrity chefs on TV or it’s just the impression a uniform makes on them, like police officers or fire fighters.” The chefs kept busy giving presentations in Charlotte- Mecklenburg classrooms from February through April. They will resume again in the fall, reinforcing messages with the same group of students, who will move to 4th-grade, but with new presentations. “We have more plans for our characters as we move into next year,” Harley promises. By sticking with the same core audience, she intends to follow the effects of the program from year to year to track its success in changing habits and choices. Although she would like to see the nutrition education component expand to other grades, for now it will be offered only to the target classes unless they get grant money. “I love working with this program; it is one of my favorites,” says Harley. “The chefs have been very good to us. I think it is a great program, and it is one of our biggest nutrition education efforts.” Teen Chefs on the Move! THE SCHOOL NUTRITION STAFF at Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools also teamed up with five chefs from the Nation’s Capital Chefs Association for a unique collaboration: an eight-week nutrition education and cooking program for middle-school students. Ahn Ei Sweeney, RD, a specialist in the district’s food and nutrition services department, can report that the partnership was a success from the very beginning, producing a fun course, Teen Chefs on the Move!, which is in high demand among students. Offered to students participating in the afterschool program in two Fairfax County middle schools, spaces fill up fast. The program is the product of multiple brainstorms. School nutrition staff met with afterschool coordinators to discuss the idea of conducting cooking classes after school. From there, the idea evolved into offering some nutrition education along with the cooking lessons, and using the home economics classrooms in the district’s middle schools. According to Sweeney, the school nutrition staff developed all the lesson plans and created binders for the students. The chefs then took the class from there. Each week, a different nutrition lesson is taught. It begins with a basic nutrition class, presented by all five participating chefs as a team. Then, in the following weeks, each teaches an additional lesson. These have focused on a variety of topics, from superfoods (including kale, spinach and sweet potatoes) to whole grains. While Sweeney worried about the time commitment they were asking from the busy chefs (each chef presented one class in each school, lending two days of their time), she can report that her partners were happy to participate in the project. Indeed, “We will repeat the class again next year,” promises Sweeney. “On the student evaluations, there were no negative comments about the course, with all participants indicating that it met all their expectations.” In addition, all the participating chefs are onboard to repeat the experience. Ag in the Classroom/ Incredible Edible Idaho COLLABORATION OF A DIFFERENT KIND has taken shape in Idaho, where the state’s Departments of Education and Agriculture have teamed up for Ag in the Classroom, a project to bring nutrition education to students as an extension of the state’s Farm to School Program. Heidi Martin, RD, SNS, coordinator of child nutrition programs, Idaho Department of Education, explains that both state departments bring different strengths to the partnership: Martin brings her experience working in schools, while her counterpart in Agriculture contributes an extensive knowledge of agricultural processes and issues. An example of how that collaboration worked is evidenced in the project’s Incredible Edible Idaho materials. Among these is a series of 30 curriculum posters that feature different agricultural products. Each poster displays a photo of the crop in the field, with another photo showing a sample on a plate. Along with the visuals are five agricultural facts about that product, plus five related nutrition facts. Finally, each shows the outline of the state of Idaho, with a star marking the place where the showcased crop is grown. At the local level, the school nutrition department is asked to tie menus to scheduled nutrition education lessons. “We believe we have to have a foodservice component to the nutrition program,” asserts Martin. In addition, the partner groups developed a My Idaho Plate component, featuring nutrition facts, lessons and downloadable activity sheets. Ag in the Classroom workshops are made available to teachers in the summer. These courses, offered for academic credit, cover a variety of agriculture-related topics, including nutrition and locally produced foods. They are designed to help teachers learn how to bring nutrition education and farm-to-school messages into the classroom using scripted PowerPoint programs, hands-on activities and take-home materials. All the materials, which were developed by students in a dietetics program, are tied to education standards. The state-level collaboration also has expanded to include school gardens, and those projects are required to feature a nutrition education component. “Gardens have been a huge success in getting students interested in eating healthy,” reports Martin. With funding support from a Team Nutrition grant, Martin awards smaller grants for school garden startups, including the purchase of seeds for the garden or to give to students to take home. Some crops are grown during the school year, while others are tended by Boy and Girl Scout troops for summer harvests. Martin is convinced that students gain an appreciation for fruits and vegetables and healthy eating choices when given a chance to experience the contributions that local farmers make in their communities. “When we teach nutrition from the angle of the farmer, it is more interesting to kids,” she asserts. “It’s not just talking about the vitamins you get from foods. We get more buy-in and interest. The image of [school meals] improves when you incorporate a farm-to-school component. Even if nothing is different on the menu, if it comes from a local farmer, you get a lot more support for what is served.” Pigaro’s Diner SUZANNE YATES, MS, RD, LD, child nutrition program director for Mobile County (Ala.) Public Schools, found out that when you combine nutrition education with opera—yes, opera—you can get something that’s more fun than you ever thought possible! What you get is Pigaro’s Diner, an interactive musical production featuring a nutrition message that is produced by the Mobile Opera. Now that’s a harmonious partnership! Pigaro’s Diner is a 40 minute play that features music, puppetry, acting—and audience participation. On a set that resembles a 1950s diner, Pearl the Waitress takes orders from kids in the audience, while Paul the Stock Boy keeps up the place; they both work for Pigaro, the puppet who is both owner and chef. And yes, opera does come into it, especially when the kids in the audience are encouraged to call for Pigaro, singing new lyrics to the familiar music of Rossini’s Barber of Seville. “It’s an awesome play that they have,” reports Yates. The music features a range of styles, from rap and rock to samba and show tunes. “Kids really remember the songs.” That’s especially true, she says, of the main theme song: “It’s not what you eat every once in awhile, it’s what you eat every day.” The lyrics seem to resonate with students long after the program is over. Pigaro’s Diner has been performed in 60 schools in the Mobile school system over the past two years, including some repeat performances at certain sites (notably one school for developmentally delayed students, which has asked for a repeat every year). Yates is able to use department funds to pay to bring the presentation to schools. This unusual partnership began with the Mobile Opera’s mission to provide educational outreach to children. Stacey Driskell, director of education and community outreach, says the company originally offered a program on kids and health to area hospitals, but got no response. Then, “We thought, ‘What if we do something about better nutrition?,’” recalls Driskell. They turned to the Alabama Department of Education for guidance on conveying the proper message, and eventually connected with Suzanne Yates. Scott Wright, general director of Mobile Opera, wrote the original music and storyline, but credits Yates for her willingness to collaborate as a nutrition expert. And according to Driskell, the opera company knew they were on the right track when, while in rehearsal for the program, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the launch of the Let’s Move! initiative. Clearly, the timing couldn’t have been better! The program is supported with classroom instruction, and children also are provided with a booklet to take home that features recipes and nutrition facts. “We could do a great job of getting the message to the kids, but we needed to get to the parents ,” notes Driskell. The Mobile Opera is interested in taking the program on the road to other school districts within a reasonable distance of Mobile or in renting or licensing the program to theater/opera companies in areas further away. “We have had such a tremendous response with the program,” reports Wright. “The message is clear, and it is very entertaining. And it has been a benefit for us, because it helps to educate and expose kids to the arts. It has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. It has been a bright spot for us.” Meanwhile, Driskell, who plays Pearl, says she often is recognized by students when she is out and about in the community just from this role, and it affirms the production’s enduring message. In fact, one teacher who recognized her said, “We love the music, but we wish the kids would stop singing it!” Explore the Possibilities So, how would you like all the kids in your school singing lyrics about nutrition? Or perhaps you would like to see your students snapping up local fruits from the lunch line, after they have learned about them in class. It is amazing what children can learn about nutrition when you find a creative, original way to incorporate it into a school day. Collaborating with other agencies, be they public or private, can be an enormously productive and effective way to maximize your resources and position your program far beyond the cafeteria. Your opportunities to get kids to eat the healthy school meals you serve are greatly enhanced by every chance you have to teach nutrition lessons. Stay alert for potential partners who can help you out; don’t rely on the most obvious sources. The results could be simply outstanding. Penny McLaren is a freelance writer in Vancouver, Wash., and a former editor of this publication. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photography by AlexMax, asiseeit, skynesher, urbancow, Photo_Concepts and lveinRadkov/istockphoto.com.
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