By Penny McLaren 2017-08-08 21:45:55
Like spokes on a wheel, working together with school community partners will help you to roll your program forward. Once Upon A Time, Elizabeth Foland, MS, RD, was attending a state workshop for culinary teachers in Indiana. Another participant made the comment that she wanted to train her students in using commercial kitchen equipment but, to her dismay, there wasn’t any such equipment at her school. What about the school foodservice equipment? Foland asked herself. If not in that school, why not work with other schools in the district? After all, school nutrition operations manage food production, recipe development, nutrition and wellness, hospitality management, interpersonal relationships—many of the academic areas that students are taught in a middle or secondary school family and consumer sciences (FCS, FACS or F&CS) program. This was not a light-bulb moment for Foland. As Team Nutrition Grant director for the Office of School and Community Nutrition, Indiana Department of Education, she works closely with school nutrition operations across her state. She had long recognized the opportunity for improved alliances between the school foodservice program and teachers of culinary arts, FCS and other related courses. Indeed, that’s why Foland was attending the workshop in the first place. Elsewhere in the Indiana Department of Education, Alyson McIntyre-Reiger, MS, CFCS, is program leader for Family and Consumer Sciences programs. She works primarily with individual teachers of that curriculum throughout the state. She’s also the chair of the national board of directors for Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), a student organization that helps young men and women become leaders, learning and addressing important personal, family, work and societal issues through FCS education. She and Foland connected, and as they developed a deeper understanding of one another’s department, they learned “We have the same expectations and desires for creating nutrition awareness,” says McIntyre-Reiger. Let’s take a pause. Are you seeing the direction of the natural course of such connections? Foland and McIntyre-Reiger certainly did. And that recognition marked the start of an exciting partnership among school nutrition departments, teachers of FCS courses and students, particularly those active in their school chapters of FCCLA. The result would be A Circle of Excellence—which became the title of an educational alliance that benefited everybody. GETTING CENTERED “We saw what the FCS students could do for foodservice,” recounts McIntyre-Reiger, of the potential opportunity to reach a new generation of school nutrition professionals and school meal advocates. For example, “Students enrolled in culinary arts programs are already trained in food safety and sanitation procedures,” she notes. “And FCCLA provided an outlet for them to get involved in peer education and in marketing school lunch.” In 2014, Foland and her staff decided to award Team Nutrition sub-grants to Indiana schools that could demonstrate an educational approach to this type of partnership. At the heart of the grant funding was the requirement to have an active FCCLA chapter in the school—which was not a significant barrier to participation, as “Indiana has a large enrollment of students in nutrition and wellness curricula,” notes McIntyre-Reiger. In addition, the grant stipulated a focus on engaging students in the implementation of various Smarter Lunchroom principles. In the application process, points were awarded to schools that demonstrated a well-thought-out approach to executing such a cafeteria-classroom partnership. This meant providing a show of support from all parties. “We looked for total buy-in from teachers and administrators,” explains Foland, adding, “One part of the requirement was that we had to be able to see student participation.” Foland and her team sought to ensure the grant recipients represented a good cross-section of schools in every part of Indiana, with sites that had strong school nutrition directors and FCS teachers (who could lead student activities). The Team Nutrition grants were awarded to 24 Indiana middle and high schools, to support planned activities that could span the course of up to two years. At the project’s outset, Foland and McIntyre-Reiger brought the participating teachers and the school nutrition directors together for group training. For many, it was the first time these professionals from the two disciplines had even met. In the initiative’s second year, the Indiana group leaders met together at the students’ FCCLA camp, giving the staff a chance to see—and be inspired by—what students do at the national level. SPHERE OF INFLUENCE In the grant application process, schools had to describe the type of partnership activities they intended to conduct. Once awarded the funding, the students worked with their leaders to write action plans, submit these for review and then execute them. “We have kids doing lunch or breakfast promotions, working with different age groups,” remarks Foland of the creativity that was sparked by the program. “Whatever they did, it was their idea. One school, for example, developed a breakfast burrito menu item. They created it and promoted it to all the students in the school. Now, it has been added to the menu in that site.” That school is East Central High School, Sunman-Dearborn Community Schools, in St. Leon. Students enrolled in a nutrition and wellness course began the partnership by developing a nutrition education campaign with activities targeted at different age groups. For example, the students visited kindergarten classes to teach them the importance of eating fruits and vegetables using a card game they invented. They also conducted lessons about container gardening and asked the youngsters to sign a pledge to eat more fruits and vegetables. But the teens were eager to do more, wanting to share the same message about the value of healthy eating to their peers at the high school. In particular, they recognized the need to boost breakfast participation, which was the catalyst for the breakfast burrito project. Working with Sunman-Dearborn’s school nutrition director, the Nutrition and Wellness students learned about federal nutrition and portion requirements, tested different recipe ideas and organized a panel of judges to determine the best recipe: the Wake and Bake Burrito. Cafeteria staff began promoting the item, with help from their student partners. This included developing and distributing a customer acceptance survey. A whopping 90% of the cafeteria patrons said they would select it again—and it has remained on the menu. A Circle of Excellence Team Nutrition grant was used by high school students in the New Castle Career Center of the New Castle Community School Corporation to partner across school disciplines and create the Shining Stars Preschool Program. Students in the Early Childhood Education program, who also take an FCS Nutrition and Wellness class, decided to introduce preschool students to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. “The kids at the Early Education Center were getting snacks, but there was no plan in place to ensure whether these snacks met any nutrition criteria,” says McIntyre-Reiger. The high school students worked with New Castle’s foodservice director to understand Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) requirements and used these to develop a variety of snack ideas for the preschoolers. The teens created an acceptance survey instrument using pictures so that the young children could rate the fruits and vegetables they liked best. The teens formed a partnership with graphic arts students to develop promotion materials featuring colorful produce photos. In Charlestown High School, a part of the Greater Clark County School District, the school nutrition team wanted to work with students to demonstrate that healthy food choices can also taste good. To this end, they invited Nutrition and Wellness students to help prepare menu items served for school lunch. This included working with the department dietitian to learn how to prepare recipes that meet federal nutrition standards. And this led to the creation of different menu items to be tested in an Iron Chef competition, battling cafeteria staff. Students were divided into four teams, each vying to have their recipes featured on the menu. The competition was livestreamed on the high school’s website and was so popular that the superintendent expects it to be an annual event. ROUND OF APPLAUSE The grants required an evaluation component and the results showed that each project generated impressive outcomes, especially for the school nutrition operations. For example, breakfast programs saw increased participation. New menu items—at breakfast and lunch—were developed and embraced. Creative new names improved acceptance of recipes and menus. Composting methods were explored. Promotions enhanced awareness of fruit and vegetable offerings. McIntyre-Reiger is confident that the partnership will have a payoff for students, as well. She expects to see a boost in the number of students who opt to take part in wellness curricula, as well as in FCCLA activities. “We can’t show actual data yet,” she cautions, “but five years out, we will be able to measure if there is increased competition participation in nutrition-related events.” In the meantime, McIntyre-Reiger is gratified that Indiana FCS teachers now recognize the school nutrition department as a resource. “Teachers can ask foodservice directors or managers to secure equipment or teach a class or help them understand how to incorporate commodities into their nutrition curriculum,” she relates. Some schools have opened up whole new channels of communication, “because now they have established relationships, and these will continue.” Foland knows that such student activities can’t help but raise the awareness of what school nutrition is all about. “When students get to know the foodservice staff, and staff develops a relationship with students, it can grow in many ways,” she explains. One of these ways—and one that she feels particularly passionate about—is increased awareness about school foodservice as a career path. “Once they work with the foodservice staff,” Foland says, “students find out that they are not just ladies dishing out food, but that they have education and skills that have value.” REPLICATING THE RESULTS Clearly this school nutrition/FCS partnership was a great match in many communities throughout Indiana. Can you do something similar at an individual district level, without the help of an initiative led by progressive state agency staff? Foland and McIntyre-Reiger want to help. They’ve compiled a manual featuring greater details of the projects excerpted in this article and listed in the box on page 56. This downloadable resource, A Circle of Excellence: Showcasing Best Practices in Nutrition Education, is a great place to start. You can find it at http://tinyurl.com/INDOECircleofExcellence-SNmag. “The other thing to do is to go down the hall and talk to the teachers in Family and Consumer Sciences,” asserts McIntyre-Reiger. “Find out what kind of needs they have in meeting nutrition and wellness curriculum requirements. For example, [the students] could help you evaluate new products. You could help them.” In addition, each FCCLA student chapter has an advisory council, she explains, suggesting school nutrition staff reach out to determine ways that you might work with these student groups to encourage students to take a peer-to-peer approach in promoting wellness. In fact, just getting acquainted with a school’s FCCLA chapter is a simple way to initiate a potential alliance, advises Foland. “Students take part in state competitions in FCCLA, and judges are needed for those,” says Foland, citing personal experience; she and another state agency coworker have both volunteered to work in this capacity. “We loved it,” she recounts. “We got to know the students, and we got to talk to them and pick their brains on what they wanted to do and learn. It really cemented a future partnership.” “We always need judges at the state and national level,” confirms McIntyre-Reiger. In general, a statelevel event can attract some 8,000 student attendees, with 4,500 competitors presenting projects. In Indiana, some of the students who were involved in the A Circle of Excellence partnership projects went on to submit their work and compete on the state level, and eventually the national level. “For two of these students, it meant that they got to fly in an airplane for the first time,” reports McIntyre-Reiger. Note that partnerships with academic programs don’t have to involve elaborate activities or projects. In one school, says McIntyre-Reiger, students simply volunteered in the cafeteria at breakfast, helping to serve. And, in fact, they don’t have to involve FCS or culinary arts programs. Foland advises school nutrition teams to be open to working with teachers, club advisors and students in other areas, as well. Graphic arts classes might create posters or produce photography for cafeteria promotions. Similarly, the yearbook staff might be helpful partners in various marketing initiatives. STEP INSIDE THE CIRCLE Indiana’s A Circle of Excellence program logo truly represents both the opportunities and rewards for all the partners involved. According to McIntyre-Reiger, it shows school nutrition staff that FCS teachers “can be your biggest support.” It also shows students—and teachers—the complexity of the school nutrition program. “Students were amazed how difficult the work is in school foodservice,” recounts Foland. “They have said to us, ‘We have earned so much more respect for foodservice staff.’ They saw the challenges and barriers that the staff faces in serving school meals. They recognize that they are professionals in what they do.” Without a doubt, that’s a goal worth working toward—together. VICTORY LAP Need inspiration for some of the activities you can try when reaching out to partner with Family and Consumer Science teachers? Here is a brief description of some of the Indiana A Circle of Excellence projects completed in SY 2014-15: • Grow It, Taste It, Like It: Hands-on learning with fruits and vegetables—Area 30 Career Center, Greencastle • Recipe Contest: Promotes eating fruits and vegetables—Carmel High School, Carmel • Students Teaching Students: Produces healthy eaters—Carroll High School, Fort Wayne • Iron Chef Competition: Students battle cafeteria staff—Charlestown High School, Charlestown • Students’ Burrito: Boosting breakfast sales—East Central High School, St. Leon • Teaching Size Wise: From cafeteria to “fat vest”—Greenfield-Central High School, Greenfield • There’s Power in Partnerships: How we created shining stars—New Castle Career Center, New Castle • #TryItTuesday: Campaign captures students’ attention—North High School Evansville • Food Tasting: Boosting student consumption—Rossville Middle/High School, Rossville • Hot Breakfast: Increasing student consumption—Southern Wells Junior-Senior High School, Poneto • Teaching Healthy Habits: High school students mentor youth—Tri-Central High School, Sharpsville Learn more about these projects and others by downloading A Circle of Excellence: Showcasing Best Practices in Nutrition Education. You can access it at http://tinyurl.com/INDOECircleofExcellence-SNmag or by visiting the Indiana Department of Education’s Team Nutrition webpages, www.doe.in.gov/nutrition/scn-team-nutrition, which feature additional resources that can be accessed and used by school nutrition professionals from any state. The A Circle of Excellence program shows students—and teachers—the complexity of the school nutrition program. Penny McLaren is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, Wash., and a former editor of this publication. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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