By Kelsey Casselbury 2016-06-10 05:56:14
Innovative initiatives raise the bar When the Circus Came to Town An Ohio district clowns around for nutrition education. COME ONE, COME ALL! Step right up to see the incredible nutrition education programs at Beavercreek City (Ohio) Schools. Under the helm of ringmaster Connie Little, SNS, the Student Nutrition department transformed six elementary schools into a fun and exciting “big top” celebrating the inclusion of fresh fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet. This year, “Juggling More Fruits and Vegetables Into Your Diet”—a promotion that literally featured jugglers—joined the ranks of inventive marketing campaigns that the Beavercreek team implements annually each April. One year, Little brought in a herd of dairy cows to visit; another year, she had tractors parked on the front lawns of the schools. For 2016, Little happened upon her theme by discovering that Transportation and Building/Grounds Supervisor Todd Scott is a skilled juggler. “We said, ‘Oh, wow, wouldn’t this be fun—juggling more fruits and veggies into your diet!’” Little recalls. “That’s where the idea was born and, then, it kind of morphed from there.” One juggler, though, does not a promotion make, so the school nutrition team went on the hunt for others. They discovered that a neighboring elementary school actually hosts a juggling club—but the campaign schedule would coincide with test time, which had to take priority. What to do? It turns out that the answer was right in front of them: Director of Human Resources Deron Schwieterman. He was a bit rusty in his juggling skills, but with a little practice, he was up to speed in no time. Two jugglers. Check. But as P.T. Barnum could attest, it takes more than just the ringmaster and a couple of jugglers to pull off the circus. You need the acrobats, the animal handlers and the clowns. Therefore, to coordinate a district-wide nutrition education promotion that would impress the kids—and the community—ringmaster Little recruited teachers, administrators and a multitude of other Beavercreek staffers, who all bought into the concept—and the message behind the promotion. Irrepressible Impressario You might ask, “How did she make this happen? Didn’t all these people just think she was nuts?” Well, yes…and no. You see, Little’s well known for coming up with these wacky ideas. So much so that, when she enters the superintendent’s office, he says, “Oh, what are you up to now?” So, yes, these ideas might be a little crazy—but they’re also crazy effective in teaching students about nutrition and healthy foods. “When I first took this job six years ago, I said I wanted to put my own mark on this district,” Little recalls. She asked herself, “What can I do that’s totally out of the box?” Six years later, the district staff (from the teachers to the custodians) all know that there’s going to be something creative coming out of the Student Nutrition department every single April. Are you interested in putting together a similar circus-themed promotion at your school or district? Learn how it all came together. The Main Event The six-day campaign started on Friday, April 15, and ended on April 22. At each elementary school site, students learned nutrition facts via the morning announcements about why it’s great to “juggle” more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Little was careful to keep the information very basic and appropriate for an elementary school audience, with simple statements such as “Juggle more carrots into your diet because they help your eyes see well!” and “Juggle more snow peas into your diet because they help your bones to grow and be strong!” (Yes, they added snow peas as a special menu item during the promotion. “I was surprised by how many students ate them,” remarks Little, musing, “Next year I might put snow peas on the [regular] menu, maybe once a month. They are a little expensive.”) Some school sites got into the spirit with themed decorations, such as at Valley Elementary School, where Satellite Manager Cindy Stall, custodian Todd Mendenhall and volunteer Kathy Perez used Dollar Store red-and-white tablecloths and a little wire to create a circus tent over the serving line (see photo, page 168). “It was a huge hit with the Valley students!” Little exclaims. “I went in there and about fell over. They did an amazing job.” All students in grades K-5 were given fruit and vegetable coloring sheets featuring 30 different produce items. The finished pages were proudly hung on the café serving line walls. The biggest treat, however, came during lunchtime, where the students marveled at the talents of jugglers Scott and Schwieterman, while being charmed by district mascot, “Bucky Beaver.” Participating students picked up an extra-special lunch—a turkey-beef hot dog on a whole grain-rich bun, fresh baby carrots, a Red Delicious apple, snow peas, whole grain-rich animal crackers and cold milk—all packaged into a circus-themed box. As a final touch, Little and her team put together six large baskets full of produce. A winner at each school was selected randomly from students who bought lunch during the promotional week. According to Little, it was a way to bring home the healthy message to the student’s family. “This is from school! It’s not a bag of candy!” she proclaims. “It’s fruit and vegetables that a family can share, which is a huge message to the community. [It says] the schools are trying to be a positive influence and provide nutrition education on how to eat.” The Admission Ticket It won’t come as much of a shock to School Nutrition readers that the Student Nutrition department didn’t have much of a budget to draw on for this promotion. So, they got creative. To make posters, they used poster-board that they already had on hand, and Little lent her personal Cricut cutter to the effort, adding creative lettering. The cost of the special promotional menu was offset by Beavercreek’s participation in the Department of Defense (DoD) Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which was used to procure the carrots, apples and snow peas. The remaining menu items cost $1.06, with another 20 cents added for the themed boxes. As for the giant baskets used for the school prizes, “We used a little petty cash,” Little admits. Each basket cost just $1 at the Dollar Store. She added fruits and veggies from the DoD program, and then for an additional $7 per basket, she included some special produce items, such as large fresh pineapples. Finally, the baskets were lined with burlap fabric leftover from another campaign. Applause, Applause “The reason I want to do [these promotions] is to get the nutrition education out there,” says Little. But that’s not the only reason, she concedes. They also “help boost our participation.” With a low percentage (14%) of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals, average participation has hovered around 38% since the new meal nutrition standards went into effect. For the one day that the schools served the special circus meal, participation soared 6.7%. Little knows that level won’t sustain itself. But, “You keep hitting and hitting it with programming” to increase participation when you can, she advises. Little also recognizes that within three or four years, her team will start repeating these special campaigns, with just a few tweaks. By then, the youngest kids will have moved up to middle school and the campaigns will be new to the next generation. “You don’t have to redesign the wheel every time,” she notes, pointing out that existing ideas can be adapted with just a few tweaks. For example, the kids loved the circus-theme serving box for the lunch, “So we’re looking into a treasure chest box,” she reveals. The campaign just writes itself: “School lunch is a treasure chest of nutrition.” The Ringmaster’s Secrets Little says her ideas thrive on the help she gets from others in the school community and around town. So don’t be afraid to ask, she recommends. “Rarely do you get turned down.” In fact, most people are happy to help with creative initiatives. Although the nearby school juggling club wasn’t available for the special campaign week, “The teacher was thrilled. She and her principal would love to do something in a non-testing time where kids come in and juggle for other kids,” recounts Little. Schwieterman was so pleased to be asked to participate, that he wrote her a thank-you note! Just keep trying. “My husband always says, and it brings tears to my eyes: ‘Keep beating the drum, and someone’s going to listen,’ Little recites. “I’ve been in school lunch for 24 years, and the challenges are so hard for us. I think if I keep beating that drum, someone is going to eventually listen.” BONUS WEB CONTENT Ideas at Work Beavercreek City celebrates every Earth Day week with a “twist” by conducting creative promotional campaigns. Read about two other recent efforts online, and think about how you can “steal” these ideas for your own school nutrition marketing initiatives. www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus. Kelsey Casselbury is a contributing editor for School Nutrition. She is a former managing editor of the publication.
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