By Kelsey Casselbury 2014-08-19 23:04:55
You’ve learned that a camera crew for the local TV news (or a newspaper reporter with a photographer in tow) has scheduled a visit to your district to interview you about your healthy school meals. Your first thought might be “Finally!” Maybe the next one is “What on earth will I say?” It’s also likely that “What should I wear?” will cross your mind early on. Just as you want to make sure that you’re dressed to impress the camera, you and your staff should pay attention to how the cafeteria looks, too. Of course, it’s not only members of the news media that bring cameras into your cafeteria. That’s why the same effort to spruce up the kitchen, serving lines and lunchroom should apply whenever you need the space to look its very best, whether the school board has contracted for a promotional video, intrepid student journalists are reporting on the day’s meals for the in-school TV channel or you’re expecting a visit from a special guest, such as your congressional representative. Although you can’t control the lunchroom chaos that serving hundreds of students tends to create, you can take steps toward creating an environment that looks every bit as pleasant on camera as it does in person. Behind-the-Scenes Logistics As you might expect, inviting (or allowing) cameras into your school brings logistical red tape that must be handled with care. In many larger districts, requests for media coverage will come through the district’s communications or public relations office; if you receive a request directly, it’s often best to send reporters there first. It’s the responsibility of the communications department to know the district’s policies related to media coverage, says Marilyn Moody, SNS, who recently retired as senior director, child nutrition services, Wake County (N.C.) Public Schools. “They will go over details with the reporters and camera [crew] about what the district allows and disallows.” If your district doesn’t have a separate communications department, the responsibility for complying with policy falls on you, particularly when it comes to rules about photographing or videotaping students. In nearly all cases, you must have a signed media release from a parent or guardian. (Some districts use school-wide waivers or opt-out agreements regarding permission for a child to be filmed or photographed.) Let’s say a crew is filming a segment about breakfast in the classroom, but you discover late in the game that only 15 out of 30 students in the class have media releases on file. Failing to make arrangements in advance means that videographers are stuck filming shoes, hands or the backs of students’ heads—considerably less-than-intriguing visuals! Craig Weidel, SNS, area supervisor for Mesa (Ariz.) Public Schools, advises being forward-thinking and ensuring well in advance that you have media releases for at least a select group of youngsters, such as the student council. “Or, you could target one classroom,” he suggests. “But you want to make sure that the teacher is on board to participate and is a champion for child nutrition programs—it’s an assumption that isn’t always true.” Of course, you need to ensure the other key players at the school are on board, too, especially the principal. You don’t want to alienate an important ally by leaving her or him out of the loop when making arrangements for a camera crew to infiltrate the campus. For example, when the Georgia Department of Education wanted to film in Rockdale County (Ga.) School District during a standardized testing period, School Nutrition Director Peggy Lawrence, SNS, hated to say “no”—but knew it was best to decline. “I knew better than to even ask [the principal],” Lawrence recounts. “There’s no way; I would look like a fool. You cannot mess with testing. I said, ‘We’d love to help, but can’t,’ so [the state agency] went to another school system.” While disappointed to lose out on an opportunity to showcase her program, Lawrence insists on prioritizing pragmatism. “[Filming] can be disruptive, and the last thing we want to do in school nutrition is interrupt instructional time. That’s the easiest way to make an enemy of the principal.” Spic ‘n’ Span Prefer to coordinate arrangements personally, with or without the assistance of a district communications office? Some school nutrition directors relish this opportunity and have solid advice to share through lessons learned. Along with navigating various administrative requirements, the first step is to pick the right school, as well as grade level, to put in the spotlight. It’s key to select a location with a supportive principal, fun kids and high program participation, asserts Jessica Shelly, MBA, REHS, SNS, food services director, Cincinnati (Ohio) Public Schools. She also tends to direct camera crews to tape the youngest group of students. “There’s nothing cuter than a first-grader going through the salad bar, saying “‘I love carrots!’” Shelly observes. “They’re willing to speak their minds and be really positive about it.” Once the basic arrangements have been made, it’s time to focus on the cafeteria itself. Amid the chaos of the average lunch period, it can be easy to overlook sloppy salad bars, half-full serving dishes and a bucket of dirty mop water tucked away in the corner. When there’s a camera coming, you want to make the time to freshen things up. Jodi Risse, MS, supervisor of food & nutrition services, Anne Arundel County (Md.) Public Schools, does a “pre-visit” of an individual site, chatting with the cafeteria team and custodial staff about how to make the space look its very best for the special visitors. It’s good practice to train your eye to look at everything the camera will capture. For example, recycling and garbage containers might be positioned in certain places for very good traffic flow reasons, but they sure will look ugly in a wide camera shot. Can they be moved elsewhere temporarily during the media visit? (Unless, of course, your intent is to draw attention to plate waste challenges!) Shelly equates the process of getting the lunchroom ready to that of selling a house. “When you go to sell your house, your Realtor always tells you to stage it, clean it and have something baking in the oven,” she says. “You want to have an awesome aroma. I tell the custodial staff, ‘Don’t use the old mop water. Lunchroom staff, let’s make sure we have everything cooking and smelling good from the kitchen.’” Until you (and your team) develop a practiced eye, to ensure you don’t miss anything, create a short checklist of steps you can take—beyond standard hygienic procedures—to make the cafeteria look its very best. Consider adding the following to your list of potential tasks: • Check that the serving line lights are turned on and all the bulbs are shining bright. • Place extra-colorful menu items between less-colorful ones along the serving line. • Clean up clutter, such as delivery boxes or paperwork, ensuring that anything that can be stored for the day has been put away. • Check to make sure posters and signage are in good condition; remove any handwritten or sloppy signs. • Look at the serving line from the outside in, rather than only from behind the line, where the staff usually stays. Finish up the site prep by looking at the space with fresh eyes—which might not even be yours! “When you look at something every single day, it looks quite ordinary,” says Moody. She recommends asking someone who’s not typically in that kitchen to stop by, whether it’s a supervisor from another part of the district or a manager from a neighboring school. If no one’s available, use what’s in your pocket: your smartphone. “Sometimes it is best to take a few photos with your smartphone of the areas that you want the photographer or cameraman to be filming and see what it looks like [through a lens],” advises District Supervisor of School Nutrition Services Debbi Beauvais, SNS, Gates-Chili Central School District, Rochester, N.Y. Visual Showcase As the saying goes, we eat with our eyes first—make sure the camera alone can capture the temptations of your school meals, without their delicious aroma and taste. Color, texture and background all play a role in how appealing the meals appear on camera. For example, “Our salad bar is our biggest success story,” Risse says. “We offer up to eight fresh fruits and vegetables a day; it has everything from kiwi to broccoli florets.” So when a camera crew comes in, she likes to make sure that the salad bar is a bona fide showcase. “We make sure they don’t have all the green vegetables [lined up] on one side,” Risse notes, explaining the intention to mix up the colors for greater visual allure. She also ensures there’s a duplicate set of produce available in the kitchen, so if the filming goes longer than expected, the bowls stay full and plentiful. She also discusses the menu planned for the day with site staff. Is it colorful? Do you have every ingredient that’s supposed to be on the menu today? Are there fruits and vegetables that complement the entrée and the grain? As with all things in school nutrition, a little flexibility works to your advantage. Lawrence notes that certain menu items lend themselves to showcasing a certain talking point that you want to make more than others. So, if there’s a last-minute media request, she’s not opposed to, say, serving Tuesday’s menu on Wednesday. However, she cautions, if lunch menus are posted online, the reporters might do a little fact checking and note that you’ve made a switch on their behalf. Worse, she says, would be to prepare something totally unusual. You want to show food that you would really and truly serve to school children. “That’s a credibility issue for me,” Lawrence says. “Even if you can’t always tell on TV what’s healthy and what’s not, I’m not going to lie.” One tip from media savvy directors is creating a special display table specifically for the camera. Identify individual meals that you want to highlight, create some fun signage and presentation accessories. Use a linen tablecloth—Weidel recommends red or black, because it stands out on camera better than white—and plate the food on attractive serving dishes. Many foods pop in black dishes. (See “Click It, Share It, Post It…,” on page 28, for more camera-friendly design suggestions.) Be aware of small details that can subtly reinforce your message. “If you’re highlighting a new muffin, and it has flaxseed in it, take a mason jar and fill it up with flaxseed,” suggests Jean Ronnei, SNS, chief operations officer, St. Paul (Minn.) Public Schools. Add table-tent signs (printed, not handwritten) that describe the menu items with concise but key elements. “How you name things is important,” Ronnei adds. Is it a “blueberry muffin”? Or is it a “Whole-Grain Maine Wild Blueberry Muffin”? Always at the Ready There’s no denying that hosting a camera crew—or a special guest visitor—makes extra work for everyone involved. But the good PR that can result is immeasurable. Still, don’t save your “spring cleaning” only for those occasions when the media pays a call. After all, notes Rockdale County’s Lawrence, “Cameras are everywhere, and we’re not aware of it. They’re taking pictures of the food they eat; they’re taking pictures of the line. You have to operate all the time as if you’re being filmed.” Kelsey Casselbury is managing editor of School Nutrition. Photography by wellphoto, RASimon and inakiantonana/istockphoto.com. SNAPSHOT • Confirm that you have a media release on file for any student appearing in photos, film or videotape. • Ask a colleague unfamiliar with the cafeteria that will be visited to bring fresh eyes to your clean-up efforts. • Set up a special display table to showcase complete meals and reinforce key talking points. Helpful Resources From SNA Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/PR for many more tips and advice on prepping your cafeteria for site visits and working with the media. In Cafeteria Site Visits 101, you’ll find a checklist to help you track all the steps involved in preparing for a lunchroom visit. In the Media Outreach Best Practices Guide, you can glean tips about working with the media from many SNA members with extensive media experience. Cafeteria Site Visit Sweepstakes When you put these tips for creating a picture-perfect cafeteria site visit into action, you could win big! Invite your U.S. senators and congressional representative to pay a visit to your school cafeteria. If they accept and attend, tell SNA all the details and you will be eligible for a random drawing to win one of two trips for two to SNA’s 2015 Legislative Action Conference in Washington, D.C. To enter the SNA Cafeteria Site Visit Sweepstakes, you must be an SNA member and submit your entries by November 4, 2014. SNA will accept entries for any legislator visits to cafeterias that have taken place since January 1, 2014. Send documentation of the visit (pictures, videos, thank-you letters, press clippings, etc.) to Nichole Westin, SNA director of state legislative affairs, at email@example.com or by fax to (301) 686-3115. Visit http://tinyurl.com/SiteVisitSweep stakesRules for details. BONUS WEB CONTENT The cafeteria is dressed to the nines, now make sure your site staff members are ready for their on-screen debut, too! Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/SNMagazine/BonusWebContent for advice on how to prep school nutrition managers and employees for portraying your operation in the best light possible when on camera.
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