Sally Mauro food service manager Vicky Howell serves school menu samples to Carbon County Board of Education member Wayne Woodward. The food samples were passed out to school officials and residents attending a rundown session regarding the status of the What Counts? program.
When Carbon School District conducted the first What Counts? meeting with 200 county residents three months ago, few people realized what of the emphasis of part of the program would become.
But last week at another meeting, the topics of discussion had narrowed considerably and the group had thinned to about 50 attendees.
What counts? is a program used nationally by school districts to find out what citizens and parents consider important to students' education.
There were dozens of topics and ideas put forth at the first local meeting. But the district ended up with four categories of concerns from the group.
Last week, the district presented the four categories to the smaller group in attendance at the meeting and received feedback from the audience.
The five concepts that came out of the original meeting were teacher accountability, over scheduling students time (both at home and at school), communication between parents and the school district personnel, teacher quality and presenting student's with a healthy school meal program.
The first issue discussed during the meeting was school meal service.
Patti Rigby, the school food service manager, addressed the matter.
Rigby said she had looked at the comments people had made about school food at the first meeting, along with other comments that she has received, and pointed out that a lot of what people want school food service to provide, they are doing and now. They have even more targeted menus to incorporate into the breakfast and lunch programs.
"We have the philosophy that kids need to get the base of their nutrition from the meals they get from the school," she stated. "That's because for many it may be the only two meals they have in a day."
She pointed out that kids come to school with likes and dislikes when it comes to food and that one of the things the school district is trying to do is to introduce kids to new things, particularly healthy ones.
"But it doesn't matter how healthy something we serve is if the kids won't eat it," she stated. "Kids like finger food and we are trying to find things that are healthy that are finger food."
She says that it has been amazing to watch kids, many of whom have been switching finger food that includes broccoli, carrots and even tomatoes.
Carbon School District gets some of their food as a commodity, or subsidized food that the federal government sends to the schools. At times in the past some of this food was not the healthiest, but Rigby says things have changed.
"We also belong to a co-op that a number of large and small school districts in the state joined which helps us to buy in bulk for many kinds of things," she stated. "The districts that belong to this have a total of over 200,000 students."
Rigby and personnel from all of the schools in the district then served various kinds of food to the audience as samples of what is being prepared and fed to local students.
While some of what was served looked the same as the food that was provided in school lunch programs 40 years ago, there have been several significant changes in what students get in terms of nutrition.
Rigby pointed out that the chips provided to students are all baked, not fried.
The chicken nuggets are only whole breast meat and are baked, not fried.
All bread products served in school lunchrooms throughout the district are whole wheat.
Even the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a staple in many school lunch programs, contain 50 percent of the fat compared to similar meals served to students in the past.
"The lunch has changed in content and nutrition, but not in taste," pointed out Rigby. "We have also introduced kids to new foods like orange chicken, which we serve periodically. Some kids say they have never, even seen that kind of chicken before."
Superintendent Patsy Bueno stated that she encouraged parents to have lunch with their children to see how things have changed since the adults were in school.
"I think parents who haven't done that will be surprised how things have changed since they ate school lunch as students," said Bueno. "We can give them nutrition information so they can see that school lunch is healthy for their kids."
The members of group in attendance at the meeting then turned their attention to the other topics that came out of the first session.
Editors note: Today's story is the first of two articles about the on-going process of applying the What counts? program in Carbon School District.