Bright Spot: Pueblo City Schools
November 14, 2012
Few cities can lay claim to a pepper. Pueblo, Colorado not only boasts its own pepper, it also claims that the Pueblo green chile pepper is the best green chile in the country! The same pride that the city shows in its chile can be seen in its schools. Whether it’s student achievement or the food they serve the students, Pueblo City Schools’ homegrown passion is evident.
When Jill Kidd moved to Pueblo 26 years ago to become the Director of Nutrition Services, she knew that the green chile would be a challenge. She also faces the challenge of feeding almost 18,000 students in 33 schools, many of whom come from economically disadvantaged households. Almost 70% of students attending Pueblo City Schools (PCS) qualify for free or reduced meals, and over 1,300 are homeless.
So Kidd took action. To conquer the chile, several of Kidd’s staff took turns sharing their family recipes and techniques with her. To nourish Pueblo’s school kids, Kidd began serving universal breakfast in the classrooms.
Kidd started PCS’s classroom breakfast program in 1997. She attended a School Nutrition Association conference where she learned about a classroom breakfast program in Brownsville, Texas. She then read the Dairy Council’s “Expanding Breakfast” manual and got to work.
“I knew our kids needed breakfast and only a few kids were participating in the traditional before-school program,” said Jill. “The classroom breakfast program was simple to implement. Three pioneering principals agreed to pilot the concept. It flourished from there and has now expanded to 27 schools.”
Education was a big part of launching the new breakfast program. Kidd and her staff met with principals, teachers, and custodial staff to explain the process as well as the benefits to children and achievement.
“We had success in encouraging schools to implement the program because our pilot schools loved the program and acted as our advocates with their peers,” explained Kidd. “We had some challenges in carving out the 12-15 minutes of time for the meal, but were successful in convincing most teachers that kids can eat and learn at the same time.”
Kidd’s universal classroom breakfast reaches about 80% of the children in the schools running the program. Many of the students depend on it.
“One of our special needs kids knows exactly what it means when he sees our lunch lady come through the door. He gets very excited with a smile on his face and claps because he knows breakfast has arrived. It’s part of his routine and it helps him to start off his day happy.”
Kidd’s efforts to nourish Pueblo’s children don’t end with universal classroom breakfast. PCS’s Nutrition Services also offer summer lunch, afterschool supper for at-risk kids, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable grant program, and a seamless summer option for their year-round schools. Kidd has also helped to coordinate weekend food back packs for at-risk students and pop up mobile food pantries. Currently, Kidd and her staff are in the process of establishing mini-food pantries in PCS high schools to support students in need.
Staff development is also very important to Kidd. Ten of her staff members have earned their associate’s degrees in the culinary arts, and three staff members have gone on to careers in teaching, nursing and technology.
Keeping an eye toward the future, Kidd said, “We are currently working with Livewell Colorado to assess our program, plan improvements, and provide professional development for our staff as we move toward new menus with more whole grains, reduced sodium, and even more fresh fruits and vegetables.”
And her success with the Pueblo green chile? Kidd has caught the hometown pride. “Now I have my own family recipe, and roasted pueblo green chile peppers are found in many of my recipes. You can’t beat at roasted Pueblo chile!”