The School Nutrition Association is seeking to roll back the healthy school food standards in Congress, and its primary justification for doing so is that districts around the country are unable to comply with those standards.
Given conflicting data indicating that 90% of districts are already meeting the standards successfully, many school food advocates have asked the obvious question: instead of weakening nutrition – a move that directly harms kids – why not put more effort into helping the small minority of districts that are struggling?
The good news is, that’s exactly what USDA is now doing with a program called the Team Up for Success Training Initiative, which brings together successful districts and those in need of assistance, helping the latter overcome their challenges without compromising on children’s nutrition.
The Team Up program began with a pilot last year and was so successful that it’s now being rolled out sequentially across the country. The first Team Up this year will take place in USDA’s Southwest region on April 14-15, when school nutrition directors from Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico will meet at the National Food Service Management Institute on the campus of the University of Mississippi.
Last week I had a chance to speak with Bill Ludwig, USDA’s Southwest Regional Administrator, about the initiative. He told me that goal of the two-day conference is simply to give struggling districts “a new tool kit, a set of best practices and technical assistance to make implementation a little easier.”
Ludwig notes that it’s usually the smaller districts around the country, those without a lot of resources, which are having the most trouble implementing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHKFA) standards. “Some of the larger districts have a little more opportunity,” he told me. “More dollars and staff and nutritionists. Dallas ISD is a good example. Its director [Dora Rivas, interviewed by TLT last year here] is just outstanding. If you look at the schools in Dallas, all of them were HealthierUS Schools before the implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. They didn’t have to do anything in 2012 [when the HHFKA was implemented] because they had surpassed those requirements a number of years before. They have a lot more experience than a small district just now trying to implement the HHFKA.”
During the Team Up conference, struggling districts are not formally paired with mentors. Rather, according to Ludwig, ample opportunities are provided throughout the two days for informal networking, with the hope that school nutrition directors will form multiple mentor/mentee relationships that will last long after the conference is over.
Future Team Up regional meetings will take place throughout the year, as follows:
- May – Northeast region
- June – Western region
- July – Midwest region
- August – Mid-Atlantic region
- September – Mountains Plains region
To learn more about Team Up and to view webinars from the prior conference, school nutrition professionals can visit this link and/or contact their regional administrator for more information.
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