Nancy Mears, a school nutrition manager in Seaford, works with students and staff to develop innovative programming that supports nutrition while maintaining alignment with academics. She developed professional development for teachers in the subject, and has been involved in several programs that have earned kudos for the schools she has worked with from Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign.
“Before students can learn, they must have their basic needs met – and one of those basic needs is proper nourishment.”
School Nutrition Manager, Seaford School District
In her own words…
Excellent public education is important because it is absolutely necessary in order for our students to be successful and competitive in a global economy.
I became involved in education because I wanted to reach as many people as possible through my work – specifically students who are at an increased risk for health disparities. I absolutely love working in the field of School Nutrition because I know the work we do will be positively impact our students for the rest of their lives.
My proudest moment as a champion of education is being part of a team that was awarded the first HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) certification in the state of Delaware and being invited to The White House for a reception for being one of the first 1,200 schools nationwide. I also love when one of my employee understands why our work is so important in the academic achievement of our students – this is necessary in building staff capacity.
Before students can learn, they must have their basic needs met – and one of those basic needs is proper nourishment. In our district, about 75% of our students are receiving free and/or reduced-priced meals. In many cases those are the same students who are struggling academically. We know there is a relationship between socioeconomics and academic achievement. The bottom line is that students need good nutrition and need to be physically active in order to be successful in the classroom.
My approach to my work is inspired by knowing that I have the ability to positively influence the nutrition environment of about 1,000 students in both of my schools, as well as their family members who visit the schools and the staff members who work in our schools. I see the cafeteria as our classroom, giving us the opportunity to educate our customers about good nutrition through the serving of proper portion sizes while exposing them to a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy choices and lean forms of protein.
Many people do not realize the strong connection between good health and academic achievement. With so many competing priorities in Delaware schools, school-based opportunities for physical activity, physical education and nutrition education have significantly decreased. I take every opportunity to creatively promote and provide nutrition education, not only for academic achievement, but for the creation of lifelong healthy habits.
Pushing the envelope means proceeding with an act or idea that you know is important and will benefit our students and their families, even if you meet resistance. It means keeping the end goal in mind, and achieving it despite the road blocks and challenges that you may encounter.
If I could change one thing about Delaware’s education system, it would be to enable, encourage and provide opportunities and models for state-wide collaboration among our districts in order to share knowledge and resources – after all, we are all on the same team! I would like to see School Nutrition professionals provided the same amount of training as other support staff groups. I would also like to see the implementation of professional standards in our field.
We are all educators because we have the opportunity every single day to make a positive influence on someone’s life – my role is to be able to improve a student’s health through the promotion of healthy eating and physical activity and through the creation of environments that supports these behaviors.