A School Nutrition Director Collaborates to Serve Up Her Vision
Posted Jan 22 2009 12:45pm
Taos School District | Taos, New Mexico
Taos, New Mexico, is known worldwide for its stunning mountains, amazing skiing and beautiful artwork. If one looks beyond the cool vistas they will find there is a force in the community that brings a kind of warmth to the schools within Taos. Mary Ann McCann, Taos school nutrition director and co-lead of the district wellness council, warms the hearts and stomachs of the Taos schools’ students as she works diligently to create healthier school environments specifically around the food service program.
Initially, as the food service director, Mary Ann worked with various schools in the community to implement healthier eating options. Understanding the correlation between poverty and access to healthier foods, Mary Ann began the Breakfast in the Classroom program in 1993 at Enos Garcia Elementary School. In 1996, with the success at Enos, Taos High School implemented “Tiger Time,” a break for all students to have a healthy breakfast as well as time to work with teachers on academic issues. Unfortunately, due to program restructuring, this time was cut down to a passing period.
Mary Ann, a breast cancer survivor, indicates the biggest changes in creating a healthier environment came in 2000, after she was diagnosed with the cancer. One day, as Mary Ann was walking around one of the cafeterias, she saw a young woman eating a lunch that consisted of a soda and potato chips and she decided that selling junk food to the students was unethical. With two daughters the same age as this young woman, Mary Ann realized how the school nutrition program, under her direction, was modeling poor nutrition. That summer, members of the school community including teachers, administrators, school nutrition staff, students and community members participated in drafting the district’s nutrition policy, which eliminated the sale of carbonated beverages and candy that did not comply with the federal regulations governing Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value (FMNV). The policy was one of the first in New Mexico regarding FMNV.
Over the next few years, Taos continued to raise the bar regarding foods sold in school and they worked to eliminate high-energy drinks, high sugar teas and juices and snacks that were high in calories and low in nutritive food value.
A strong vision and strategic partnerships are at the core of Mary Ann’s work. Mary Ann has been involved in the New Mexico School Nutrition Cooperative, a group of 14 schools who organized to purchase food at a more competitive price. This collaboration with other schools across New Mexico has allowed the Taos Food Service Program the ability to serve healthier items to students at a less costly price. Mary Ann also tries, when possible, to work with local farmers to purchase locally grown items.
When asked about her future goals, all responses are centered on collaborations and partnerships. Mary Ann is working with the Taos Community Foundation to find grant money to support “Chefs in the Schools.” The “Chefs in the Schools” project will provide professional development by local chefs to her food service staff. The project will focus on assisting the staff in preparing more “scratch” menu items which are healthier and better tasting. Mary Ann envisions more community gardens and greenhouses in Taos and sees these as being educational tools for the schools. Mary Ann also is involved with the NM Food and Ag Policy Council (NMFAPC), NM Farm to School and NM School Nutrition Association, which are all working toward expanding healthier choices for students. She sees some wonderful changes in healthier options being available to students through her continued involvement with these programs.