Penns Manor School District
Food Service Director: Garry Dixson
Penns Manor School District
District Enrollment: 1064
District Free/Reduced: 42%
A need for a breakfast program was identified at Penns Manor School District when it was recognized that many students were coming to school without having eaten breakfast. When Garry Dixson, the Food Service Director, was interviewed for his job, he realized the school board was interested in initiating breakfast programs in the district. Programs were started in the district about three or four years ago, but participation levels were low.
The Creative Strategy: Involve Students in Marketing the Program
To improve participation in the breakfast program, Garry decided he wanted to encourage students to spread the word about the positive aspects of breakfast and the breakfast program. He used a marketing strategy that involved encouraging the more popular students in the school to participate in breakfast, and then recruit them to spread the word to other students. Because of their popularity, he felt that other students would follow if they saw the popular students participating.
He recruited a couple of students in each grade from the student council. He meets with them once a month to get their input into the school meals programs. This student group controls a suggestion box, and at the monthly meeting Garry and the students review the complaints and suggestions, trying to address each one. He also tries to get feedback from the students, to learn what other students are saying about school meals. He addresses some of these issues directly with the students making the suggestions, or relays the information to his student group, who pass it on to the other students. At the monthly meeting, the group also brainstorms ideas for ways to improve the school meals programs, giving the students a voice in the operation of the program.
Through this student group, Garry tries to promote the social aspects of the breakfast program, an aspect especially important to adolescents.
Josh Peles, a member of the student advisory group at Penns Manor High School, points out that the quality of the food offered for breakfast is good, which helps recruit students to participate. He says that when he hears a fellow student complain about being hungry before lunch, he tries to encourage him or her to participate in school breakfast.
The marketing strategies that Garry employed have played an important role in an increase in breakfast participation district wide from approximately 2% to 30-35% of enrollment.
Recognizing the struggle to keep school foodservice programs financially sound, Garry realizes the financial benefits of school breakfast. In particular, Pennsylvania's financial incentive, which provides extra funding for lunch based on breakfast participation helps Garry's program "stay afloat."
The school board, teachers, and parents have recognized the positive aspects of the program. Members of Garry's student advisory group are also pleased to have their opinions heard.
Keys to Success
Garry points to student involvement as a key to success. Another factor contributing to increased participation was offering a variety of choices at the high school level where students are more interested in trying new and different foods.
Dr. Thomas Sgricca, the Superintendent at Penns Manor School District feels it is important for a food service director to show that the foods they are providing for breakfast are not "junk foods," but nutritious foods that will meet students' needs.
In order to win over administrators, Garry feels that a food service director has to show the financial and educational benefits of the school breakfast program. He also points to flexibility as a key to success. He says that you have to be "willing to work with as little or as much as you can and then once you get started you slowly win them over when they see all the benefits of the program."