History of Project PA


For over 50 years children in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation have depended on School Food Service to provide nourishing school meals. Changing consumption patterns and disease rates led to changes in regulations related to school meals. The legislation mandating these changes is the "School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children" (SMI). Understanding the required changes and being able to incorporate needed dietary recommendations into school meals has precipitated massive training needs among all levels of School Food Service personnel. To address the training needs for school food service personnel in Pennsylvania, Project PA was initiated in September 1995. Through funding and direction from The Pennsylvania Department of Education, and with the guidance of School Food Service Directors, Penn State University planned and implemented the educational campaign known as Project PA. In August 1996 a collaborative effort between PDE and Penn State resulted in the award of additional funding, from USDA, for a "Team Nutrition" grant for Project PA to develop computer training for Food Service Directors in Pennsylvania. In response to needs assessments, four major needs were identified to help Pennsylvania School Food Service meet the SMI standards; strategies were developed, implemented, and evaluated accordingly.

Cadre Training and Master Instructors

In April, 1996, the "cadre training" was begun. Members of the Project PA cadre served as facilitators during the teleconferences. The "Computer Cadre", a group of computer literate SFS directors nominated by their colleagues in 1997, played an important part in facilitating the introduction of computers into school food service. Also in 1997, the original Cadre members were trained to help provide local workshops about the School Meals Initiative. In 1998, the cadre concept evolved into Master Instructors: At the start of the program, 21 Master Instructors (SFSD) were trained to provide local workshops in "The Cafeteria Manager's Guide to SMI", and 13 in "Nutrients in School Meals".

The cadre and Master Instructors have served as peer educators to enhance motivation and also to help implement the SMI.

Teleconference I

"Teleconference 1: Making the Choice", was arranged to reach the widely dispersed audience of Pennsylvania School Food Service personnel. "Making the Choice" aimed to provide SFS personnel with sufficient knowledge to enable them to select a menu planning system that matched the needs of their facility. It also sought to address concerns and to generate a positive team approach toward implementation of the new regulations. This teleconference reached 1300 SFS staff at 28 sites in Pennsylvania, 13 sites in New Jersey, and 1 site in Delaware. Project PA's "Making the Choice" poster won the "Nutrition Education and Training" poster award at the American School Food Service Association's conference in Houston, TX, in July, 1996.

Project PA Website

The Project PA Web-site was established in January 1997 to provide access to school nutrition-related information. Please use our links to learn more about healthy school nutrition environments, about Project PA's role in promoting them, and about the activities of Pennsylvania's school food service personnel.

SMI Workshops

To facilitate the adoption of the new guidelines, cadre training for SMI workshops was arranged in March 1997. In April 1997, local level SMI workshops were conducted by the cadre, reaching 1500 SFS employees.

Computer Cadre — Computer Workshops

Computer workshops were arranged at Penn State in March and May 1997; in Slippery Rock, PA, in June, 1997; in Exton, PA, in October, 1997; and in Wilkes-Barre, PA, in November, 1997; reaching a total of 213 SFS employees across the state. Members of theComputer Cadre attended these training sessions and assisted in preparing for and presenting them.The results from the computer training have been impressive. Several abstracts have been published, and manuscripts submitted for publication on the results of this training.

Teleconference II

"Teleconference II: Taking the Steps" aimed to define and clarify what constitutes compliance with the School Meals Initiative and to give SFSD the opportunity to practice applying the dietary guidelines to menu planning and/or modifying menus to meet the Nutrient Standards.

In July 1997, 50 SFSD in the Cadre were trained to facilitate the second teleconference. In August 1997, this teleconference reached 570 SFS employees at 24 downlink sites in PA. Their knowledge and attitudes about the SMI review improved significantly (p < 0.0001).

Local Workshops by the Cadre and the Master Instructors

In October 1997, 35 SFSD were trained to serve as Cadre for "Menu Planning Options" workshops. The same fall, in November 1997, "Menu Planning Options" workshops arranged by SFS Cadre at 19 sites in PA reached 1100 SFS employees.

Computer Workshops

Computer workshops were arranged at Penn State in March and May 1997; in Slippery Rock, PA, in June, 1997; in Exton, PA, in October, 1997; and in Wilkes-Barre, PA, in November, 1997; reaching a total of 213 SFS employees across the state. Members of the Computer Cadre attended these training sessions and assisted in preparing for and presenting them. The results from the computer training have been impressive. Several abstracts have been published, and manuscripts submitted for publication on the results of this training.

Master Instructor training was started in the summer of 1998. By September 2004, over 200 local level workshops were conducted by Master Instructors which reached about 4,900 SFS employees.

Provide Computer Training

Several educational approaches were utilized to provide extensive computer training. A survey to gather baseline data on computer use led to the development of the "Computer Exploration Kit" for novice users, and to the provision of local computer workshops at three levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

  • Computer Exploration Kit

    The "Computer Exploration Kit" was produced in July of 1997 to reduce anxiety towards computers among the SFS personnel least interested in using computers. Subsequently, 875 copies of the kit were distributed to all NSLP sponsors in the state, to be used for on-site training. It is also available from PDE.

Master Instructors

Project PA Master Instructors were foodservice directors who completed training provided by Project PA on a variety of topics, then conducted workshops on these topics for school foodservice personnel in Pennsylvania, free of charge.

This program was conducted from 1998 to 2004.

Model Schools Project

The nation's largest Team Nutrition Grant at the time was awarded to Project PA in 1998 to create the Model Schools Project. A video documenting the process of successful implementation of USDA's School Meals Initiative in two schools was produced for this project. A Best Practices Manual based on the experiences of these and other schools was also created. Contents of the video were the focus of Project PA's third teleconference in May 2000. An edited video from the teleconference and the Best Practices Manual were distributed statewide in the fall of that year.

Promote Nutrition Friendly Schools: Parent Collaboration

The Parent Collaboration project addresses the issue of childhood obesity and how parents can be involved in solutions to this problem. Materials for this project provide summaries of key topics as well as action plan information for parents, schools, and whole communities

During 2000 Project PA began the first of its campaigns to improve the overall nutrition environment in Pennsylvania's schools. TheSchool Decision-Makers project brought the issues to school administrators: informing them about connections between nutrition, health, and learning; and motivating them to develop, approve, and adhere to nutrition-friendly policies.

The Showcase Schools project, begun in 1999, promoted collaboration among cafeteria, classroom, and community members. This project helped to set Project PA on a course beyond training school food service personnel and toward improving the nutrition environment in the total school setting.

The term "Nutrition-Friendly Schools" is Project PA's designation for Pennsylvania's efforts to createHealthy School Nutrition Environments for the children in our state's schools. The nutritional health of the total school environment will continue to be a primary focus of Project PA's efforts.

Team Nutrition Action Plan Grants

The purpose of the Project PA Team Nutrition Action Plan grant program was to help schools develop and implement action plans through which cafeteria, classroom, and community members worked together to improve school nutrition and participation in the school meals programs. The awarded plans brought together representatives from school food service, school administration, and school faculty to provide for nutrition activities in the students' total environment: cafeteria, classroom, and community.

Twenty-two grant applications from across the state were received by the January 10, 2000 deadline, from which the "Showcase Schools" were selected to receive Action Plan grants of $3,000 each.

The Showcase Schools were:

  • Forest City Regional High School | Forest CityRegional School District
  • Centerville Elementary School | Hempfield SchoolDistrict
  • Sacred Heart School | Northampton (Diocese ofAllentown)
  • Wayne Highlands Middle School | Wayne Highlands School District

Nutrition Action Plan team members from each of the above Showcase Schools participated in a kick-off "Team Nutrition Workshop" in March 2000 at University Park. We were thrilled to work with these schools in the implementation of the fine action plans they created. The Project PA film team visited the schools to videodocument their grant-related activities.

Teleconference III

Project PA's third teleconference was conducted on May 2, 2000. "Teleconference III: Making it Work", presented case studies of the steps taken by 2 PA SFSD's to meet the SMI guidelines. Best Practices in school meals programs across the state were showcased in video and discussion formats. Other topics covered were: Steps to successful SMI Action Planning and using resources to enhance implementation of an Action Plan. 21 Master Instructors and 15 PDE staff members met in April 2000 to prepare to facilitate the teleconference, which was then broadcast in May to 24 downlink sites across PA with over 500 people again participating.

Promote Nutrition Friendly Schools: School Decision-Makers

The Project PA team conducted presentations at state and regional conferences for school board members, superintendents, and principals over the period of several months in 2001. These seminars centered around the topic of nutrition-friendly policies for the total school environment. Evidence was presented indicating the value of good nutrition and the important role the schools play in this aspect of children's lives. We encouraged policy-makers to take the necessary steps to make their schools more "nutrition-friendly." Issues addressed included scheduling school lunch before recess, "pouring contracts" with soda companies, and sales of foods that compete with the school food service department's reimbursable meals, among others, all of which could be regulated by nutrition-friendly policies.

The Food Guide Pyramid was explained along with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the "6 components of a Healthy School Nutrition Environment" (HSNE) as defined by USDA:

  1. A Commitment to Nutrition and Physical Activity
  2. Quality School Meals
  3. Other Healthy Food Options
  4. Pleasant Eating Experiences
  5. Nutrition Education
  6. Marketing

Project PA provided compelling evidence for the fostering of nutrition-friendly environments by the establishment of policies that promote the development of these 6 aspects of school life.

Project PA developed the following materials for the Nutrition-Friendly Schools presentations:

  • A PowerPoint presentationthat was the basis of Project PA's year 2001 seminars for school policy-makers.
  • A booklet of related materials, Is Your School Nutrition-Friendly? , that was given to seminar participants. (PDF document)
  • A motivational Nutrition-Friendly Schools video (Copies of the booklet and video have been distributed statewide to district superintendents, school boards, and foodservice directors.)

Parents Project

In recognition of the important role parent involvement plays in children's school success, the "Parents Project" contributed to the establishment of Nutrition-Friendly Schools by creating and expanding links between communities and schools, with the focus on parents. To mobilize parents to become part of Pennsylvania's team working toward Nutrition-Friendly Schools, Project PA developed a kit entitled Preventing Childhood Overweight and Obesity: Parents Can Make a Difference, to help address the roles of families, schools, and communities in reversing the trends in childhood obesity. The kit contains a VHS tape, a DVD video, and print materials.

During 2002-2003 the Project PA team conducted presentations based on these materials at state and regional level meetings of parent groups. The Pennsylvania PTA partnered with Project PA in these endeavors. Regional and state meetings of the PTA provided Project PA with venues for delivering the Nutrition-Friendly Schools message to parents around the state. In 2004 the PTA also contributed by helping to disseminate the parents kit.

Copies of this kit have been distributed to Pennsylvania superintendents, business managers, school board presidents, school foodservice directors, PTA presidents and Cooperative Extension educators.

Teleconference IV

On May 12, 2004, Project PA, a collaboration between the Pennsylvania Department of Education and Penn State University, presented a one-day teleconference, “Increasing School Meals Participation: Creative Strategies that Work!”

  • The primary target audience for the teleconference was school foodservice employees.
  • The teleconference was broadcast to 27 sites in Pennsylvania, reaching 350 participants.
  • Funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Division of Food and Nutrition, with
  • Federal State Administrative Expense funds provided by the Food and Nutrition Service, United States Department of Agriculture.

The objectives of the teleconference were for participants to:

  1. Be motivated to take positive action to improve school meals participation
  2. List barriers to improving participation
  3. Identify effective, feasible solutions to barriers
  4. Identify action steps to improve participation
  5. Identify creative strategies they can implement in their own schools
  6. Identify resources to help improve school meals participation