In 1995 the federal government set the stage for creating healthier school nutrition environments with the introduction of the School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children (SMI). This legislation required school foodservice directors to plan meals that meet the Dietary Guidelines and specific Nutrient Standards. The SMI created the need for education for all school food service personnel, as well as other school personnel, parents, and children.
In Pennsylvania, Project PA, a collaboration between the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Division of Food and Nutrition, and Penn State University, was created to meet these training needs. Project PA's educational campaign has included development of award-winning teaching strategies and materials that have been distributed statewide and nationally to create healthy school nutrition environments.
Since its beginning, Project PA has worked with schools to foster environments where good nutrition is provided, taught, modeled, and learned. Over the years Project PA has developed nutrition curricula to meet the training needs of School Food Service personnel, teachers, administrators, parents, and others. Project PA's primary goal is to provide the training and other resources necessary to assure Healthy School Nutrition Environments (HSNE) for Pennsylvania's school children.
Elements of Project PA's multi-faceted educational campaign include:
- Reaching School Food Service through Satellite Technology
Employing the use of innovative educational tools, Project PA developed and broadcast three statewide satellite teleconferences reaching more than 2300 school food service employees. Edited tapes of these events were distributed to all PA National School Lunch Program sponsors to use as part of subsequent local training.
- Building Skills through Hands-on Workshops
Personal coaching and small classes widely distributed throughout the state were hallmarks of local level workshops for school food service personnel. Topics were identified through needs assessments and personal feedback, and included menu planning options, SMI documentation requirements, and computer skills.
- Infusing Classroom Nutrition Curricula
Start-up grants were awarded to schools by PDE for implementing 3 interdisciplinary nutrition curricula. These curricula are now in use in many schools throughout the Commonwealth. Project PA staff have been involved in the development and evaluation of these curricula and, through a series of workshops, have provided teacher training on these curricula.
The Present and the Future
Building School Foodservice Leaders
A statewide Master Instructor Program was introduced in 1998 and continues to provide essential local training opportunities. A cadre of leaders in school foodservice from throughout the state attend training sessions provided by Project PA staff, then return to their home regions and conduct local workshops on the same topics, using materials developed by Project PA.
Fostering Cafeteria, Classroom, and Community Links
Through 1999 Team Nutrition funding, Project PA awarded grants to 4 schools to implement Team Nutrition Action Plans, linking the cafeteria, classroom, and the community. Project PA documented the schools’ activities in print and video format. “Pennsylvania’s Showcase Schools” manual and video will be distributed to all PA National School Lunch Program Sponsors in 2002.
Creating Administrative Support
Project PA created a "Nutrition-Friendly Schools" kit for superintendents, principals, and school board members to assess their school nutrition policies. This awareness-creating kit, a video and supplementary print materials, was the basis of several Project PA presentations during 2001and will be distributed to all school districts in Pennsylvania. The material produced emphasizes administrators' roles in establishment of healthy school nutrition environments.
Recognizing the importance of parents in supporting nutrition-friendly environments, USDA has awarded Project PA funds to create a Parents' Guide to Healthy School Nutrition Environments during 2001 to 2003. The goals are to help parents facilitate the establishment of HSNE by creating and expanding links between communities and schools, to increase awareness about the importance of HSNE, and to mobilize parents to become partners with schools in this effort.
For more information on Project PA, see Related Links.