School Lunch Week Heroes

School cafeteria workers dress the part as superheroes
By: Todd Martin
Even more than usual, it is superheroes serving in Killeen ISD’s school cafeterias this week.
National School Lunch Week, officially October 14 to 18 presents a uniform time for school nutrition staff members to point out the importance of healthy eating. It also places a spotlight on a deserving, “behind the scenes” group of employees.
Killeen ISD School Nutrition Director Evan Leach said he is impressed with employees’ enthusiasm, dressing as superheroes and decorating cafeterias to draw student attention. The theme for the week is “Save the Day with a Healthy School Lunch.”
“Our school nutrition staff is actively saving the day by providing good quality meals to students,” Leach said. “We offer fresh fruits and vegetables daily. This week we would like to showcase our passion for service and spotlight some of our heroes.”
One group of heroes, at Eastern Hills Middle School, decorated and dressed the part with capes, masks and other costume pieces. The Panther spirit in the school’s cafeteria is nothing new.
While nutrition is important, Eastern Hills School Nutrition Manager Valerie Rangel-King said it’s the students who are top priority.
“We make nutritious meals,” the manager said, pointing out that she and her staff members eat the food they make. “We also greet students in the morning at breakfast. We love to interact with the kids.”
The decorating and costumes, she said, is just another way to reach out to students, something that is commonplace in the Eastern Hills cafeteria. “We have panthers all over,” she said. “We have a lot of school spirit.”
Some of the school cafeteria current and former employees are parents or grandparents of Eastern Hills students and many of the staff members keep up with athletic teams and attend games and other activities, Rangel-King said.
At Ellison High School, the 14 school nutrition staff members used their own time to decorate three separate parts of the serving area to represent famous superheroes, military heroes and law enforcement heroes.

The annual emphasis, Ellison Nutrition Manager Goldie Kaiser said, is a good time for employees to mix fun with raising student curiosity in considering what they eat.
“I love that we dress up,” said Kaiser, dressed as Wonder Woman. “The kids love it. They love to see the decorations and we love to see the smiles on their faces.”
Another KISD nutrition staff hero, Leach said, is Hay Branch Elementary School Nutrition Manager Michelle Sturdivant. She and her staff members have participated in the school lunch week theme for many years.
This week, Hay Branch cafeteria staff members are wearing capes and other superhero costumes as they serve. Custodians and classroom aides are taking part in the fun, too.
“She leads an incredible team of superheroes whose mission is to feed the students,” Leach said of Sturdivant.
At Hay Branch and across Killeen ISD, school nutrition staff members work to increase breakfast and lunch participation.
“There’s a direct correlation between increased participation and better products being available to students,” he said.
“We’re actively listening to our students and cafeteria staff. We want to provide them with the best possible meals without creating menu fatigue. We’re in the business of feeding hungry minds and improving the nutrition environment of students.”
Improved access to healthy food includes Chick-Fil-A at the middle schools and Pizza Hut at the high school.
“We want to offer variety and improve access to healthy food,” Leach said. “We’re looking to pilot several programs in the near future and (this week) is a great way to start.”
One popular program gaining steam is Sharing Table, allowing students to contribute unopened, non-perishable food items for other students.
“Students can leave what they don’t want and others can take it,” Leach said, noting the effort increases access to nutrition and reduces waste. About 20 KISD schools are implementing a Sharing Table.