Mahanoy Area School District
Mahanoy City, PA
Food Service Director: Joyce Ciarla
Mahanoy Area School District
District Enrollment: 1241
District Free/Reduced: 64%
The Creative Strategy: Building Relationships with Students and the Community
In Joyce Ciarla's first year as Food Service Director at Mahanoy Area School District, she wanted to build rapport with parents, establish good relationships with them, and help them understand why she was incorporating breakfast programs. During National School Breakfast Week in her elementary school the students are allowed to invite their parents or grandparents to breakfast. The students get to "show off" their school, the cafeteria, and their lunch ladies, as well as have a continental breakfast with their family.
Two years ago, Joyce brought together a group of high school students to form a Nutrition Advisory Council (NAC). In addition to a variety of other activities, the NAC becomes involved with younger students, who see the older students as role models who they look up to in as star athletes, cheerleaders, and science fair winners. When parents and grandparents accompany their children to school for breakfast during National School Breakfast Week, the NAC members helped to serve the food and randomly place some prize coupons on the trays, underneath the milk cartons and underneath the cereal bowls that the elementary students were able to redeem at lunchtime.
Joyce educates the NAC members about the school meals programs. They are able to respond to questions from community members, parents, and other students about the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, or After School Snack Program. The NAC members explain school meals requirements to other students, and offer suggestions to Joyce to improve the programs. Joyce credits her relationship with NAC members and their relationship with others in the school community for very high participation rates in her school meals programs.
At the high school level when the NAC was initiated, breakfast participation rose from approximately 2% to 30%. In the middle school, where block scheduling is used and a universal free pilot program is currently in place, participation is approximately 92% of enrollment. Joyce notices very high participation rates on Monday mornings and speculates that these participation rates are a result of many students not having adequate food over the weekend, reinforcing the importance of the breakfast programs in Mahanoy Area School District.
Keys to Success
Joyce strongly believes in educating administrators and parents about the importance of nutrition in the educational process. Joyce advises other Food Service Directors who are interested in starting breakfast programs to gather statistics about the benefits of school breakfast and present those data to the school board and the principal. Joyce also believes in the value of community involvement in establishing successful programs.
Dr. Barbara Grazel, principal of Mahanoy Area Elementary School puts the breakfast program in the context of national education objectives, "My first thought was 'No Child Left Behind.' We don't want to leave our children behind, instructionally, or academically. In the mornings it's [the school breakfast program] giving them the energy to do well. We are not leaving any of our children behind."