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News Item: Homepage

First Class Of Nutrition Advocates Deployed

As the 2015-2016 school year started, there was a new group of students spread across VUSD’s middle and high schools: Student Nutrition Advocates. Sporting custom WaveCrest Cafe t-shirts and outfitted with free meal cards, posters, and an impressive amount of information about how Vista Unified’s pioneering nutrition program runs, this group of students is kicking off a program that CNS Director Brock Smith hopes will be a long term, sustainable model for peer nutrition education.

“As we’ve seen our department improve and grow the past few years, we saw that a vital component was to develop things that are sustainable over the long term,” said Smith. "Our goal with this program is to establish a program where every year we’ll have a new group of Advocates learning about what we do, helping us to improve what we do, developing skills for themselves, and learning how to identify and bring up a new group of leaders behind them.” 

Advocates are assigned monthly themes to communicate to their peers, and outfitted with both physical and digital resources to share with their schools and communities. As the year kicked off, they were tasked with getting the new WaveCrest Cafe music video played in their schools, though video announcements, at events, and through social media. They were also charged with getting to know their school’s cafeteria lead. 

Says Rancho Minerva Middle School Assistant Principal Anna Lozano, “the Advocate program has allowed our students to have a voice. It has allowed our students to create opportunities for our communities and staff to learn about nutrition and this is helping us strengthen our relationships.” RMMS Advocates have worked with the WaveCrest staff to provide snacks and food samples for events ranging from a community fair the weekend before the start of school to a successful Back To School night event at the school. RMMS Assistant Principal Juan Ayala says of the practical implications of the program, “the Advocate program is a great opportunity for students to develop leadership skills and be a part of the change in school culture. As Advocates our students get to experience real life work situations, as well as expand their knowledge of 21st century skills " 

Advocates are equipped with free meal cards allowing themselves and one guest per day to have a free meal in exchange for filling out a short survey about their experience. “Gathering feedback about the food and the experience is key for us,” continues Smith. “By having Advocates at each of these schools, we’ll be able to gather far more information that we could on our own, and it’s done in a peer to peer fashion that allows students to speak freely with their classmates. We’ll gather the information and review it regularly.”

The Advocates met in early August, ahead of the start of school, for training and education about the program, and a chance to develop their own ideas for the school year ahead. The day included a tour of the district’s Central Kitchen, the hub of creation for the more than 19,000 meals served daily across the district. District Dietitian Amy Haessly led the tour, and guided the students in understanding the rigorous process of selecting, fine tuning and serving so many meals each day. Haessly was able to teach the group about the nutritional content of the meals and the relentless work to find the highest quality, best-tasting options for the district.

"By providing a glimpse of the bigger picture of our operation, our customers get a deeper appreciation and understanding about how the food on their tray actually got there,” says Haesly. "They know they are getting quality ingredients that were selected with care."

She also guided them through the busy kitchen, observing staff making fresh ingredients and dishes for the start of the year, and concluding in the facility’s giant drive-in freezer (with temperatures reaching 20-below). Says Haesly about the program, “our Advocates serve as a dynamic connection with our customers. Their feedback helps us plan our menus and create new recipes that meet their taste preferences while meeting our quality and nutritional standards. They are helping us share our story to our customers but they also are helping us listen to the needs of our customers. It's a win-win collaboration!"

In the months to come, Advocates will communicate with their schools about the amount of local and fresh made food that is served every day, work to arrange for taste tests with their classes so that students can weigh in on potential new menu items, and develop on-campus activities and visits from partners like Solutions Farms and the California Dairy Commission.

“Our Advocates are a vital extension of our work,” continues Smith. “We're looking forward to learning as much from them as they do from us. It’s a real collaboration with student leaders in our schools, and we’re excited to see what they’ll bring to this effort."


Posted by: Dave Palmer, District Associate, Vista Unified School District Published:9/9/15
Audience: Homepage and Homepage