The Total Child

AASA Community of Practice Highlights the Impact of Alternative School Breakfast

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The entire group for the Community of Practice at the end of the meeting in New Orleans.

 On October 19th and 20th, AASA, the School Superintendents Association, convened a Community of Practice for current and former Food Service Directors along with their mentors in New Orleans. A Community of Practice is more than a meeting, it’s an opportunity for participants to share best practices, brainstorm ideas to address challenges through case studies, and share stories on how the program has impacted their schools and community.

Mentors from state-level, anti-hunger community organizations, as well as food service directors from past cohorts, shared their expertise through interactive panel discussions. Everyone had a chance to network at a celebratory dinner in New Orleans, after spending the afternoon together.

Since 2011, with funding from the Walmart Foundation, AASA works with districts to increase school breakfast participation using alternative breakfast strategies like Grab N' Go and Breakfast in the Classroom. The current cohort of eleven school districts has been working with AASA since Spring 2015. AASA has funded 22 districts to do this work since 2011.

What Would You Do? Collaborative Case Studies  

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 Following the welcome, introductions, and storytelling, participants were broken out into smaller groups to work on case studies. The case studies were inspired by focus groups that AASA conducted at four school districts currently participating in the initiative. Learn more about the focus groups from The Total Child

 In the case studies, groups developed plans on how to address hunger in their community, discussed how to approach the issue of food waste in their schools and developed a strategy on how to expand the breakfast program with parental support. They also considered different perspectives on healthy, less popular foods versus the more sugary foods like Pop tarts. One group developed their ideal alternative school breakfast program - if there were no limits with staffing or money. Participants were appreciative of this activity because it focused on issues that they face daily.

Insights and Advice from Past Food Service Directors and Mentors  

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A panel of past food service directors.

 The Community of Practice featured two interactive panels: one featuring food service directors from past cohorts and another featuring mentor from statewide anti-hunger and dairy organizations.
The past food service directors panel focused on sustainability in terms of political support and communications. Key points included:

  •  Looking back, they were shocked on how much they needed the alternative school program.
  •  First and foremost, it’s important to consider what is best for children. Alternative School Breakfast has the potential to impact lives.
  •  If key stakeholders like superintendents and principals aren’t on board to have the program, historical data is important to show the importance of the school breakfast.
  •  Food service directors need to be connected to the superintendent, so that they are viewed as a key supporter of the school breakfast program.

 The mentors offered their expertise as state level advocates focused on anti-hunger and dairy initiatives. They discussed how food service directors can:

  •  Change the way they market school meals, and meals during summer and holiday breaks. For instance, take the word ‘free’ out of the marketing and instead say how it’s a complimentary meal.
  •  Change the dialogue of how school breakfast is discussed at the state level.
    •   Attend state association meetings with school system leaders
    •   Contribute to state level publications to show the impact of school breakfast, and
    •  Work with mentor organizations to connect with other school districts in your state to serve as a role model or learn from other districts on how they implement the program.
     
  •  Conduct a focus group with students to see what aspects of the program resonate with them.

 Stories from the Heart

Throughout the Community of Practice, current food service directors shared stories on the alternative school breakfast program through letters, videos, testimonials and parent surveys. Highlights included:  

  •  Chicago Public Schools and Newark Public Schools (NJ) had videos featuring students who made up their own songs on the impact of school breakfast.
  •  Spring Independent School District (TX) told one of their stories from the perspective of a favorite food item in Breakfast in the Classroom: little pancakes.
  •  In Newburgh Enlarged School District (NY), more than 50 parents filled out a survey which was promoted on social media and on the district’s website. Parents wrote of the impact that school breakfast had on their lives.
    •  One parent wrote: “I'll admit; I don't make the best food choices at times. I'm a full time student, with a deployed husband, and a newborn to care for. More often than not, by the end of my exhausting day, I'll give anything to my kindergartener just so we don't have to have a battle at the table. At least I know that she'll eat, and eat well when I don't have time to run to the supermarket for fresh fruits and veggies."

School district leaders discussed how they could use these stories to share with key stakeholders in their community like School Board members and how they could connect stories to the data collected relating to average daily participation and metrics relating to discipline and tardiness.

Community of Practice—More than a Meeting

 This Community of Practice was in part a celebration of the work that our 11 current participating districts have done over the past year and a half. It was also an opportunity for food service directors from past cohorts to reflect on how the program has evolved over the past five years. It was a chance for mentors to learn from school district leaders how they can best share their resources and expertise. By networking, sharing stories and problem solving through real life examples that occur on a daily basis, everyone went back to their district with new ideas on how to expand, sustain and improve their programs.  

 


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