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Nutrition program strives to keep children healthy, happy
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On an average school day, the public schools serve 4,542 lunches to Warren County children. That’s in addition to the 2,356 breakfast plates offered to students.
The Warren County Schools nutrition program has no rival when it comes to assuring regular meals for children, many of whom face chronic food insecurity when classes are in recess.
Answering the challenges of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is a permanent priority with the schools’ food service department, and was one of many achievements celebrated Thursday evening at the newly-built Dibrell Elementary School cafeteria.
“Studies have shown that kids who eat breakfast have better concentration, score higher on exams, have better attendance rates and fewer behavioral problems,” said Jean Wix, director of Warren County’s school nutrition program. “School lunches in some cases are the only meal they will have that day,” she added.
School cafeterias are also sharply focused on increasing student participation in the breakfast-lunch offerings and combatting food-borne pathogens.
Levity, combined with a serious message, made Morrison Elementary School cafeteria manager Debra Jo Shinaberry’s singing of the “E Coli” song a hit at the annual assembly of Warren County school nutrition employees.
All of the system’s school scored close to or above 90 in the state food-safety inspections. The county school district has implemented the standards of the national Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point program designed to assure contamination-free foods, from initial purchase and delivery through the final serving on the students’ trays. “The goal for Warren County is 90 or above with no critical violations,” the department’s literature states.
When it comes to encouraging higher student participation in school-provided meals, Wix pointed to the theme-days promotions at various campuses, as well as special days inviting parents and grandparents to join their students for lunches in the cafeterias.
The system strongly promotes professional certification with the National School Nutrition Association, a widely recognized process for training and education in the nutrition and food-safety sciences. Fourteen of Warren County’s personnel have earned this accreditation.
Dependability as a nutrition employee is essential to the overall success and effectiveness of the program, Wix emphasized, as absenteeism creates strains that hurt efficiency and increase costs.
Twelve of the system’s food-service employees were recognized Thursday evening for perfect attendance in the 2011-12 year.
“Warren County is fortunate to have so many school nutrition employees who view their position not as a job but as a mission,” Dr Jerry Hale, director of schools, said after the celebration event. “Even the most casual observer would have to be impressed with their high ideals, their dedication and their willingness to give a lot more than their paycheck would suggest.
“When the kids arrive for breakfast on Monday mornings, we can’t help but notice how they respond to that first plate of food,” Hale observed.  “So we are not surprised to see that our cafeteria personnel have such a strong, personal commitment to child nutrition. As a compassionate and considerate community, we emphatically thank and congratulate our school nutrition associates.” 
Earning special recognition Thursday evening were Warren County High School cafeteria manager Michelle Rackley and WCHS cook Stormi Cowan.
Rackley’s innovative campaign to increase student participation in the breakfast-lunch program won the Tennessee School Nutrition Association’s (TSNA) Louise Sublette Award of Excellence for taking lunch-service carts to the school’s second floor Ninth Grade Academy and offering “grab and go” breakfast items at the student entrance from the bus drop-off area. Wix explained that many freshmen are reluctant to go to the cafeteria, where they sometimes feel intimidated by upper classmen.
The TSNA Heart of the Program Award for 2011-12 went to Cowan for service “above and beyond what is normally expected,” Wix said.
Both of the state winners will advance to competition on the regional and national levels.