The Unique Constraints of Rural School Districts

2018-07-17

Spring 2018 Edition of Journal of Child Nutrition and Management

From resource constraints to restrictions of funding usage, rural school districts face a unique set of problems, including barriers in running thriving school meal programs and nutrition departments. Using focus groups made up of rural school nutrition practitioners from across the country, the researchers conducted interviews to learn more about working conditions and constraints, and the results were published in the spring edition of the Journal of Child Nutrition & Management.

“A common challenge identified in rural school districts was the limited number of staff to handle purchasing, invoicing, creating menus and accounting,” the study found. In many situations, it was the responsibility of one staff member to manage all administrative and food preparation tasks. Other staff-related barriers included limitations to training staff and a lack of funds to allow personnel to attend conferences and other professional development opportunities. Some rural districts did not have a dedicated school nutrition director, while some managers had to direct programs across a wide geographical area and in multiple districts.

One practical solution identified by the study was peer support. Peer networks and support, like one-on-one calls, listservs or email lists, provided assistance and reassurances to staff and managers alike. During these peer communications, staff could swap industry knowledge and reduce the sense of “professional isolation.”

Solutions for hiring and retaining staff, accommodating dispersed student populations, food purchasing and the limitations of infrastructure were also discussed.

To view the full study “Operating School Meal Programs in Rural Districts: Challenges & Solutions” and to read more about the solutions offered, check out the latest edition of the Journal of Child Nutrition & Management!

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