Ensuring that students have access to healthy food at school is the task of the food service director for the Rappahannock Public Schools.
Getting them to want to eat what’s good for them can be a hurdle.
Deanna Wayland has been food service director for the school division since Aug. 1. She is also the cafeteria manager at the elementary school.
She made a presentation to the Board of Education at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday (Nov. 9) after reviewing the current school food program. Her co-presenter was Trista Scheuerlein, director of the Farm to Table program that promotes horticulture classes, involves students in garden cultivation and gives them hands-on experience at local family farms.
Wayland explained that she has been meeting with Scheuerlein to evaluate the nutrition program and look at “how to work together.”
“We already have a program that is healthy and nutritional and meets federal guidelines,” Wayland said. What she and Scheuerlein have been looking at is “how we can do more. There is room for improvement.”
She identified a number of challenges:
• Availability of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
• Not enough staff to prepare fresh fruit and vegetables.
• Limited storage space.
• Cost of farmer-supplied food vs. vendor-supplied.
• Candy being offered as a reward in classrooms and Krispy Kreme donuts being sold in the school (to raise funds).
• Fewer students using the free or reduced-cost lunch program.
• Higher cost if whole grain breads are offered.
Wayland said if the schools had storage space for food, purchases could be made during the summer when many fruits and vegetables are harvested and then stored for use in the cafeterias once schools reopen.
But another issue is that farmers “are getting a good price and are being paid top dollar” by selling on the open market. “We can’t do that (pay top dollar) here. Vendors can offer cheaper prices,” Wayland said.
Using federal commodities that could be obtained for free or at a reduced cost would free up some funds for other purchases, she said.
Getting more students to participate in the free and reduced-cost program would bring more state money in, she said. Just 244 of the total 929 students are using the program. “These numbers are what drive our state funds,” Wayland said in her presentation.
She listed among successes the fact that the cafeterias in the two Rappahannock public schools are offering apples from local orchards at least once a month, foods are oven-baked rather than deep-fried, no trans fats are present, turkey hot dogs are served rather than beef hot dogs, whole wheat pasta is offered to students (though they haven’t been receptive to it), chef salad sales have increased, yogurt and graham crackers have been added to the breakfast menu, and the sale of chips and fruit roll ups has been discontinued at the high school.
Scheuerlein said that two local chefs have indicated a willingness to work with the schools as part of the Chefs Move to School program promoted by first lady Michelle Obama. The program enlists chefs to help promote nutrition in their local schools.
Scheuerlein said a dietician is also ready to help and that the Headwaters Foundation, a partner in the Farm to Table program, is willing to pay for that person’s involvement to “consult, train and help” the cafeteria staff.
Wayland floated the idea of unplugging the vending machines at the schools during the breakfast and lunch periods.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture allows the prohibition of sale of food of “minimal nutritional value” and directs that income from the sale of other “competitive food” go to the school food service.
There was no discussion by the school board of Wayland’s presentation at Tuesday’s meeting.
Wayland called it “the first step in a very important journey.”
Superintendent Aldridge Boone said he will be discussing the matter with the board and that public input would be sought.
$500 bonuses approved
In other business, the board approved $500 per person bonuses for school division staff, with the exception of the central office administrative staff.
The funds come from Rappahannock’s share of the federal Education Fund Act that was passed to offset losses school districts nationwide face because of declining tax revenue.
The funds can be used for compensation and benefits, to retain or retire staff or for bonuses, Boone said, and he recommended bonuses. Rappahannock’s teachers and staff have gone without pay increases for the past three years, Boone said.
“This is a one time allowance and it can’t be used for school board office staff,” Boone said in explaining why the 13 people in the central office won’t get a share. To make up for that, Boone recommended, and the board approved granting that staff three days off.
Those getting the bonuses will receive them in mid-January.
There will be $32,273.25 left after the bonuses are granted. The school board hasn’t decided how those funds will be used.
The board also approved Boone’s request to hire a coordinator of volunteers/office assistant and an instructional coordinator for math and reading.
The hirings, to be done within the next couple months, can be paid for within the school division’s current budget, Boone said.