An On-line Activity Report Submitted by Garry R. Dixson
Contact Person: Garry R. Dixson
Contact Person’s Title: Food Service Director
School Nutrition Activity Report
Origin of Activity
When Garry Dixson was interviewed for the position of food service director for Penns Manor School District. During the interview process, Mr. Dixson learned that a school board member was interested in starting a breakfast program for the high school. The superintendent and the business manager were also interested. They all felt the need to feed more students, especially those who qualified for free and reduced price meals. They were aware of the benefits of breakfast, especially the boost to learning, and they knew they could generate additional funds by starting a high school breakfast program. It also just made sense to them that if the elementary students were being offered breakfast, the high school students should also be offered breakfast.
All High School Students in the District.
Description of Activity
Mr. Dixson used the existing elementary breakfast program as a model for the new high school program. Both could be considered "traditional" in that the students eat in the cafeteria before classes begin. A quality meal is provided, with more options at the high school than at the elementary level. Mr. Dixson makes sure to include foods that are student favorites, which entice even the older students to participate.
Experimentation with different formats for serving breakfast has yielded varied results. At one point, the elementary breakfast was served to everyone, all–at–once, right after they got off of the busses. Participation dropped sharply during this phase, and Mr. Dixson met with students to learn why. It turned out that many had stopped coming for breakfast because they were not able to take personal items to their lockers before going to the cafeteria. Students (and their parents) objected to the need to keep these items with them while they ate breakfast. They also felt that the lines were too long when everyone was in the cafeteria at the same time. To correct these problems, the students now come to the cafeteria for breakfast in three shifts:
- Grades K–2 still come directly from the buses.
- Grades 3–6 go to their lockers and homerooms first, then to breakfast.
- Pre–K students eat breakfast last.
Mr. Dixson has conducted other experiments that have been successful from the start. For instance, because students enjoy variations in the menu, he has devised a system to keep breakfast interesting for them. His system, however, is a little different from those at most other schools. He has found that his students like to know that he serves the same items every Monday (French Toast), Tuesday (Pancakes), and Wednesday (Breakfast Pizza). Thursday and Friday are the days when he varies what is served and he tries new items. In addition to this system for varying the menu, Mr. Dixson also has alternative items every day, such as cereal and yogurt, to accommodate students who want school breakfast but don’t like the advertised items.
- Food Service Director (Garry Dixson).
- Cafeteria Staff.
- High School Principal.
- High School Vice-Principal.
- Business Manager.
- Student Council Cafeteria Committee.
While expenditures naturally rose due to the need to buy more food and related supplies, the increased costs associated with providing the high school with a breakfast program have been offset by the benefits the program has produced. Of course, participation in the school meals program has increased, bringing with it higher rates of government reimbursements. Add to that the health and educational benefits experienced by students who eat breakfast, and Mr. Dixson believes his program is well worth the cost.
One potential new cost that Mr. Dixson deftly avoided was labor. His high school is attached to the only elementary school in the district, so the elementary foodservice workers who come in to serve breakfast to the young students simply come an hour earlier, now, to also serve at the high school. These same people then leave work an hour earlier in the afternoon than they did before the high school breakfast program started. Mr. Dixson’s solution to the labor question is a testament to the creativity and flexibility demonstrated by foodservice departments when facing barriers to school breakfast success.
Mr. Dixson employed several methods to promote the new program, including announcements, a newsletter, and the school menu. What he thinks brought the most business was word–of–mouth promotion. He talked to students in the hall about the program, much the way restaurant managers meet with their guests. He encouraged student athletes to eat breakfast because 1.) athletes need good nutrition and 2.) athletes are usually leaders, so other students would eat breakfast if the athletes did. In all cases, Mr. Dixson emphasized the social aspects of breakfast-time and how students could benefit socially by participating.
The other branch of Mr. Dixson’s word–of–mouth campaign was the Student Council’s Cafeteria Committee. He advises these students, who meet once a month. Several members of the committee are enthusiastic about breakfast and they helped him to promote the program and recruit customers. He told them to spread the word that it would be “cool” to eat breakfast at school. Mr. Dixson appealed to their pride, too, with the challenge that as student leaders, they could expect others to follow their lead in eating school breakfast.
- Participation has grown over 3 years. Slow the first year, starting at 10 or 11 students per day, now the average participation rate is 130 to 160 students per day.
- Maintained a participation of 20% or greater for the district. Current monthly average is 23 – 25%,recently as high as 30%.
- Received recognition as a ?star performer? in a breakfast study conducted by the PA Hunger Action Center.
- Generated additional revenue for the foodservice department.
What Would You Do Differently Next Time?
If he had it to do all over again, Mr. Dixson would start with a free breakfast for every student during the first week, to better promote the program.
- Meet with students to promote the program.
- Make it a social activity.
- Give them what they like and want.
- Give them multiple options every day.
- Heavily promote the program to popular students and athletes. If you get their support, others will follow.
- Don’t be afraid to make changes to the program.