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Colebrook Academy Recognized as Top Achiever for School Breakfast Challenge

Colebrook Academy Recognized as Top Achiever for School Breakfast Challenge

 Colebrook Academy was recently recognized as a top achieving small high school of the fourth quarter, by New Hampshire Kids Count, increasing school breakfast participation among all students by 713.3% and among free and reduced price students by 409.9% between October 2013 and October 2015.

For the last two years, the New Hampshire Department of Education has been running a promotion in all public schools in an attempt to increase breakfast participation. The goal is to get schools to increase their participation by 25%, with recognition going to each school that reaches the goal.

This achievement has been possible due to the strong effort and determination of The Abbey Food Service Director Steve Learned and Colebrook Academy Principal Mark Fiorentino, who have been working closely with Site Supervisor Steven Davis and assistant Debra Thompson to make the increase possible.

“We tried many new menu items to increase breakfast sales” says Steve Learned.  “But after talking with the students, it became apparent that many of them just aren’t ready to eat breakfast at 7:30 in the morning.  Offering breakfast at a later time was the key.”

Principal Mark Fiorentino says  “The idea of a Grab-N-Go breakfast seemed logical from the start, but it affects daily classrooms and teachers. We are fortunate to have such a flexible staff, that is willing to go above and beyond for our students. This program has worked well, but there has been growing pains over the past year.  Several times I have questioned its value and yet stayed the course through innovative inventions. I’m glad we did.”

The Abbey Group is an award winning food service management company whose mission is to feed children nutritious and delicious meals and build meaningful relationships with the communities that we serve. We succeed in our efforts by maximizing student participation through innovative merchandising, high quality staff and menus that feature on trend items as well as home-style and traditional favorites.

New Hampshire Kids Count is dedicated to improving the lives of all children by advocating for public initiatives that make a real difference.  As the only independent multi-issue child advocacy organization in NH, we use comprehensive data to bring people together, raise questions, seek answers and make smart, long lasting changes for NH children. NH Kids Count and its coalition, NH Hunger Solutions, developed the New Hampshire Roadmap to End Childhood Hunger (PDF), a statewide plan to tackle the root causes of childhood hunger. Expanding the use of school breakfast is one step toward creating a New Hampshire where every child has three nutritious meals a day.

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Boosting school lunch – The Abbey Group makes the news!

Make sure to visit the Milton Independent online or read below to check out an article about our new chef at Georgia School! We are so excited to welcome Peter Siegfried to our Abbey family.

Boosting school lunch

Georgia students can expect more variety for lunch when they return to school next week.

In preparation for hordes of hungry kids filing into the GEMS cafeteria, workers are installing new refrigerated display cases and a panini grill to expand lunch offerings.

The upgrades are funded by $40,000 of the 2015 surplus, one of the school board’s attempts to spend down the money before the end of the fiscal year.

The board received a wish list of sorts for cafeteria equipment needs from Scott Choiniere, Abbey Group vice president of operations and GEMS food service representative, and new chef Peter Siegfried in the spring.

The board also OK’d the purchase of two new milk coolers, a convection oven, an ice cuber, plus two cash register stations and $3,000 of small wares. Only a request for more walk-in cooler storage was tabled due to lack of space, Choiniere said.

“The school board is invested in the program,” he said. “There’s definitely going to be a lot more variety [for students].”

This year, for $2.25, students can now choose from made-to-order sandwiches, panini specials, express items like chicken or pulled pork sandwiches, a chef’s special and fresh grab- and-go items like cheese, fruit, hummus, chips and salsa and three varieties of pizza cooked on the new conveyor.

“The freshness of it is going to help,” Choiniere said. “We’re going to do cooking in front of the kids, so you’re going to have that smell in the room, too.”

Pizzas were previously cooked in the kitchen, connected to the cafeteria by a corridor. As a result, in recent years, the school fielded complaints about food quality, temperature and freshness.

New Abbey chef Peter Siegfried is pictured in his new cafeteria. Siegfried started at GEMS at the end of last year. "He's still getting his feet wet," Choiniere said, adding that he's excited for new opportunities with the NECI-educated chef. (Photo by Abby Ledoux)

The board attempted to address this with a $3 million bond for a cafeteria expansion and redesign. Plans proposed abutting the kitchen and cafeteria and growing the 2,651 square foot space that officials say is incredibly cramped come lunchtime.

But Georgia voters nixed the bond on Town Meeting Day, approving the $12.8 million school budget and a separate $2.4 million bond to replace the building’s outdated HVAC system.

Board member Ben Chiappinelli has indicated the cafeteria project will return, but for now, the small-scale improvements will help, Choiniere said, despite having no extra space.

Choiniere estimated about 100 students come through the lunchroom each shift: “We’re doing the best that we can do with what we have,” he said.

Chef Siegfried came to Georgia at the tail end of the last school year after running kitchens at IBM and the University of Vermont, and Choiniere is especially excited about what the New England Culinary Institute-educated chef can bring to the table.

Siegfried and Choiniere are both dedicated to starting a farm-to-school program at GEMS, provided they drum up enough volunteer support. Choiniere envisions a vegetable garden, fruit trees or even a greenhouse for growing a hyperlocal lunch or for an outdoor classroom.

“The sky’s the limit,” he said, citing other school Abbey programs that make maple syrup or even raise livestock. “It’s still in the planning stages … we need to get some people with a passion for it to help us.”

Teachers are showing interest, and the school board is in favor, but funding is still a question. One Maine school leveraged a parent’s skills as a landscape architect; its walking paths, school garden and orchard were all designed for free, Choiniere noted.

The Abbey Group locally sources as much of its food as possible, but you can’t get much closer than your own backyard. Choiniere envisions school-wide planting days and outdoor math and science lessons someday.

He’s well aware of neighboring Milton Town School District’s success with its own program, nationally recognized for its excellence in 2013 when First Lady Michelle Obama invited fifth-graders to plant and harvest vegetables in the White House garden.

“We want to go to the White House; we want to be in the magazines,” Choiniere said. “Everybody’s got to get together … it can go a lot of places.”

To help establish Georgia’s burgeoning farm-to-school program, contact Chef Peter Siegfried at 524-6358.

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Congratulations to The Abbey Group’s Tina Bushey

Associate Food Service Director, Tina Bushey, was recently awarded a Certificate of Excellence from the Food & Nutrition Services of the USDA in recognition and appreciation for her amazing contribution to the Swanton School being certified a Gold winner of the USDA HealthierUS Challenge. This award has only been granted one other time in the state of Vermont and was made possible largely to Tina’s efforts. Congratulations Tina! IMG_2324 IMG_2331 IMG_2349

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Where Kale Gets an ‘A’ – The Abbey Group Makes the News!!!

We are so proud of Swanton School for receiving the only Gold Award for the USDA HealthierUS School Challenge!

The HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) is a very rigorous and prestigious voluntary certification initiative established in 2004 to recognize those schools participating in the National School Lunch Program that have created healthier school environments through promotion of nutrition and physical activity. (fns.usda.gov). Together with willing schools, we have achieved recognition in some of our accounts and most recently, have helped Swanton School in Vermont to become the only state with Gold distinction. Read on to see recent press for this amazing distinction.

Article Posted in the St. Albans Messenger on January 17, 2015.

Where kale gets an ‘A’

Swanton children learn healthy ways

Michelle Monroe

By Michelle Monroe

Staff Writer

SWANTON — At Swanton School on Thursday, the cafeteria staff roasted 75 pounds of kale for an afternoon snack. According to students and staff, kale, in its chip form, is a school favorite.

Kale as an afternoon snack is just one of the reasons Swanton has become only the second school in Vermont to win a Gold Star Award from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture for its work to provide nutritious foods and incorporate physical activity into the school day.

“This is such a thrilling award,” said Nina Hansen, district director for The Abbey Group, which provides the meals at Swanton School. “I’m so proud of Swanton.”

Swanton has increased the amount of time students spend in physical activity, incorporating movement into the school day. To help students learn about nutrition and eating, the school used grant money to purchase a cooking cart teachers can use to prepare food in the classroom and has a community garden whose bounty is served in the school cafeteria.

More fruits and veggies

At lunchtime, The Abbey Group offers a fruit and vegetable bar from which students can choose a variety of fruits and vegetables or make a salad. Offerings on Thursday included sliced green peppers, grape tomatoes, fresh pineapple, apples, pears, raisins, applesauce, beats, carrots and roasted parsnips and carrots, which are part of the Harvest of the Month’s featured root vegetables.

Sixth grader Maya Rocheleau made a lunch of carrots and dip, pineapple, an apple, baked tortilla chips with salsa, and milk.

Rocheleau said she likes having a choice of fruits and vegetables. She sometimes makes a salad. “They have a variety of fruits on different days,” she said.

It was taco day and Rocheleau was pleased to have an alternative. Most of her fellow students went for tacos, with a couple of vegetables and fruits on the side.

Afternoon snack, a fruit or vegetable delivered to the classrooms, is also a favorite with Rocheleau. “I like most of them,” she said.

The changes in the lunchroom began about seven years ago when the school district switched to all whole grains in the cafeteria, including bread, pasta and brown rice, explained Hansen.

Swanton also chose several years ago not to sell items such as ice cream in the cafeteria, because some students could afford those things while others could not, explained Hansen.

“They… started out as embracing healthy eating and fitness and a willingness to try new things,” she said.

Every student in the school receives a free afternoon snack of a fruit or vegetable paid for by a federal grant for schools with high levels of poverty. In addition to the kale, typical snacks include green peppers, carrots, pears, and fresh pineapple.

Each class has a binder with information sheets about the foods served at snack time, so the kids can learn about the nutrition contained in the food they’re eating.

The afternoon snack is also a good time to introduce students to new foods, explained Tina Bushey, the assistant district director for The Abbey Group. Students are more likely to try something new during snack time than when taste tests offered in the cafeteria.

Sixth grade teacher Kirsten Belrose said she tries every afternoon snack offered and encourages her students to do the same.

The taste tests are part of the Harvest of the Month program Abbey Group does in conjunction with Green Mountain Farm to School. Each month features a new vegetable or group of vegetables. The Abbey Group will feature the food on the menu, including a recipe that families can make at home. The food also will make an appearance on the fruit and vegetable cart and in the afternoon snack, explained Bushey.

Green Mountain Farm to School provides Vermont grown produce, educational materials and support for schools gardens to schools in northern Vermont. In addition to sourcing food through Green Mountain, the Abbey also buys produce from Swanton School’s garden and from local farmers. The apples students eat come from Sheldon, for example.

Swanton School first began sending home healthy recipes being offered in the school to parents several years ago as part of a community-wide Fit and Healthy Swanton program connected to the Northwestern Medical Center.

The new federal guidelines require that students be offered a fruit, vegetable, grain, protein and dairy food each day. Students must take offerings from three of the food groups and one of them must be a fruit or vegetable.

Students at Swanton also have the option of a made-to-order sandwich. They can choose from ham, turkey, tuna or cheese, with the vegetable toppings of their choice.

There is some waste. Some apples went into the trashcan untouched. Bushey said the Abbey tries to reduce waste by offering students a variety of foods they like. “We definitely accommodate to the students,” she said. “What the students like is what we offer.”

Students also have control over the portion size of their fruits and vegetables. They can take as much or as little as they want.

Some schools have a share table where students can put food they don’t want to eat. Students who are still hungry can take food from the table. However, the tables are discouraged by the Vermont Dept. of Health, explained Hansen.

The school also offers breakfast to all students. “We recognized that there can be a stigma for kids eating free breakfast,” said Hansen. So Swanton moved breakfast later.

Students can get breakfast up to 9:45 a.m. Classes either come down to the cafeteria together and get breakfast to take back to their room, or teachers send down orders for students and a couple of students to pick up the food, explained Bushey.

Like lunch, breakfast includes healthy options – fresh fruit, yogurt parfaits with fruit, whole grain bagels or cereal, oatmeal.

Of Swanton’s 500 students, 350 buy lunch at the school, 270 purchase breakfast, and 80 get an “amped up afternoon snack” through the Crossroads afterschool program that typically includes a sandwich or wrap, a fruit, vegetable and milk.

According to Bushey, part of the success of the food program comes from talking with students. For example, when the Abbey staff began making cheese sauce, the students wouldn’t eat it because it wasn’t yellow, so the staff added dry mustard. After that the students “were all over it,” said Bushey.

She offers students the chance to sample any food that interests them, even if they brought lunch from home. If she notices a student eating Spaghetti-O’s when the cafeteria is serving pasta, she’ll offer to buy the student lunch to encourage them to try new things. “The word homemade scares them because they’re not used to it,” Bushey said.

The cooking cart gives students a chance to learn how to cook and prepare food. It comes complete with bowls, pans, kid-safe knives and burners. So far, the cart has been most popular with the kindergarten teachers who have used it to make Stone Soup and apple sauce.

Many students don’t have an opportunity to learn those skills at home. “I’ve seen kids come in and they’ve never cracked an egg,” said Kirsten Belrose, a sixth grade teacher.

“When kids make it they tend to be more willing to try it,” she said.

One of the school’s future goals is to have more classrooms use the cart, said Lisa Garrow, the school’s office manager and one of the leaders of the efforts to improve nutrition in the school.

Physical activity

While there may be a variety of foods to eat at Swanton, students must finish lunch in 20 minutes. The school decided to shorten lunch by 10 minutes in order to increase recess to 40 minutes.

Students also can take part in 25 minutes of supervised recess before school starts.

When it’s too cold to be outside, the school tries to make use of the gym whenever possible to get students some activity, explained principal Dena St. Amor.

Inside recess can also mean time with a Wii fitness or dance program. “The kids are drenched when they’re done,” said Belrose.

Each classroom has cards showing how to do a variety of exercises. Teachers can take them out and use them for an activity break. “I tend to use mine before math,” said Belrose. “It makes a huge difference.”

Students have told her they have any easier paying attention to math lessons after moving around for a few minutes.

Last year her class did a plank challenge, increasing the amount of time they could hold a plank position. Doing planks build strength throughout the core of the body. This year they asked to do it again.

Other teachers take students for brief walks.

All students in Swanton have gym classes twice a week for a total of 90 minutes. To provide enough physical activity time for sixth graders, the physical education teachers run an intramural sports program. “All of us love it,” said sixth grader Kyle Quick.

“They’re constantly move here,” said Bushey.

“They’ve really changed the school culture,” said Hansen.

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