Schools as Nutrition Hubs: Case Study 2

The March 2017 issue of School Nutrition focuses on expanding your meal programs “Beyond the Cafeteria.” In a piece by Arianne Corbett, RD, the potential options for and benefits of taking advantage of those programs are identified and discussed, revealing successful business plans and the potential to feed your hungry community year-round. After reading the article, “Schools as Nutrition Hubs,” you might wonder how these hubs function when actually applied. In this case study from the El Monte City School district in California, positive results have been the only applicable outcome.

From the top down, El Monte City School District is committed to eliminating childhood hunger among its students. “We want our students to have the same start in life as any in America. We want them to be well nourished and ready to learn,” says Dr. Robert Lewis, director of nutrition services. “It’s the philosophy from superintendent to principals and teachers. They deserve a chance just like anyone else does.” Working with the support of the school wellness team, Lewis implemented first the CACFP afterschool meals program in 2012, then Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) in 2013, and continues to improve their summer meals program. While the prospect of implementing multiple programs so quickly was challenging, the dust has now settled, and the 8,900 students attending 21 schools in the district are reaping the rewards. “Now it’s part of our culture,” Dr. Lewis explains enthusiastically. “We have tremendous support from the administration.”

Breakfast participation has skyrocketed, as has attendance by 0.5%. That may not seem like much, but school districts lose money when students are absent. On average, El Monte City School District receives about $7,000 for a student with perfect attendance. Every day missed reduces that amount by approximately $39. Improving the attendance rate by only 0.5% could mean over $2 million dollars kept by the district. No administrator is going to argue with that!

Additionally, the financial health of the nutrition program is sound and Dr. Lewis is proud to be creating jobs for the community. “We saw revenue go sky high,” he says. “After the first year, we had $1.5 million in revenue. We have added one more driver, one more central kitchen employee, and one more baker. Every site got new 3.5-hour and 5-hour employees, each. All told, we have added 22 new jobs! This is good for the community; our kids are eating and doing well; and we are adding revenue for the district!” Dr. Lewis also explains that the district has experienced declining enrollment over the past few years. Without these additional programs, he expects there would have been budget deficit and he would possibly have had to lay off staff.

Dr. Lewis also insists this has been a team effort: “You can’t do this by yourself; collaborating partnerships need to be in place with the entire community.” He has worked with teachers, principals, custodians, school nurses and coaches, tirelessly convincing one person at a time how much El Monte City students need these nutrition programs. Today, the district provides wrap-around, year-long feeding programs and they couldn’t be more pleased with the success. “We need to step up and do the right things for kids,” he says. And when doing the right thing for kids also aligns with business and financial goals, that’s a successful school nutrition program.

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