Spotlight On: Maria Hall, Walpole Public Schools

Students eat breakfast at desks

When Maria Hall, school nutrition director of Walpole Public Schools, started just under a year ago she knew that there were immediate changes to be made. One of those changes included launching a school breakfast program district wide. Hall collected the necessary information to start a program. She went to the administration, school committee, and school leadership group to rally support for the program. After examining the logistical barriers such as late busing, limited cafeteria space, staffing, and scheduling problems, she moved ahead full steam. Hall contacted the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and submitted an application to start serving breakfasts at all schools. Since only 12 percent of students in Walpole schools are eligible for free or reduced price meals, Hall wanted to ensure enough participation in the program to make it sustainable. To do this she needed student buy-in. She started at the high school, creating an entirely new look for the cafeteria. She worked with the art department to develop a senior project where students would create a new breakfast logo. The students painted the cafeteria new bright colors and featured the new logo making it feel like their space.

Next, Hall looked for grant funds to buy new bistro tables and equipment for the program. Again, since Walpole has a low free and reduced percentage the district was not eligible for many of the available grants. However, Hall was able to connect with the New England Dairy & Food Council and receive funds through the New Look of Milk and Fuel up to Play 60 programs. Through these grant funds, Hall bought a new Grab n’ Go case to feature yogurt parfaits, string cheeses, and milk in new plastic bottles, as well as the bistro tables to launch the school’s breakfast program.To further student involvement, Hall encouraged teachers to bring any clubs, tutoring sessions, or before school meetings to the cafeteria to enjoy a healthy breakfast while they meet.

Since the successful launch of the breakfast program in the high school, Hall decided to roll it out in the remaining six district schools. As a result of her efforts, Hall has received large amounts of student attention and is consistently serving 400 plus breakfasts a day, with the number still growing. In addition, the new look of the milk containers has contributed to a 40 percent increase in milk sales. To continue the growth of the program, Hall runs taste tests for the students and talks with them about the kind of items they would like to see served at breakfast.In order to address late busing and scheduling issues, she plans to implement a Grab n’ Go option before the end of the school year.  “The Walpole Food Service Department is dedicated to serving healthy school meals to all students every day,” reports Hall. Hall’s dedication to the school breakfast program and overall nutrition, quality, and presentation of school meals is something to be noted. Two of the newest menu items that the students rave about are the fresh fruit smoothies made with low fat yogurt and the yogurt parfaits with granola and fresh fruit topping!