Interview with Brian Chiarito, Child Nutrition Director, MUSD

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By Frédéric M. Martin, Editor-in-Chief

The business of feeding students is a very busy one; constantly evolving requirements, tastes, nutrition mandates, parent and student feedback, fluctuation of local food supplies and economics, etc., all contribute to ever moving targets that end up shaping the product mix on the students’ plates. Staff gets up early every day, and food deliveries start before 6:00am with two daily batches, for breakfast and lunch. The child nutrition infrastructure is improving all the time as budgets allow MUSD to modernize and streamline storage, preparation, distribution and consumption flow. Every day, 16,000+ meals are distributed throughout the school district.

The MUSD motto is “Go Fresh!” As Brian Chiarito, Director, MUSD Child Nutrition stated: “Although we do keep and distribute frozen items, the market has been moving towards healthier foods, with less nitrates, less fillers, etc.” What do the kids see on the outside? We package the food and vegetables as one would see in retail environments, so the kids respond to the food presentation. It’s “lunch at school” rather than “school lunch”. Crowded campuses also present challenges at lunchtime: Madera South is now serving two lunches because the 3,400+ student campus can no longer all be served at once. We are serving more children now that the lines are shorter, and the service has improved. We look forward to the new high school to be constructed so we can alleviate some of the current lunch congestion. We also have sporadic challenges from various school sites as special events or un-communicated sudden schedule changes can create unexpected requirements to our district wide finely tuned daily routines. Three years ago, MUSD transitioned into a Community Eligibility Provision district, a federally reimbursement program which makes breakfast and lunch available at no charge for all the students. MUSD’s CEP program eligibility is determined every 4 years, based on the community’s low-income status.

Child nutrition services cost reduction ideas include price negotiations and benefiting from food vendors competitive market forces. MUSD also purchases local products, including fresh products directly from farmers and industrial food producers, including some delicious tamales from California companies, making sure that we strictly follow all the age-based USDA nutritional requirements. Buying directly from the manufacturer rather than a distributor bypasses availability issues and reduces costs by removing the middle man. The school district is also experimenting with breakfast in the classroom to alleviate congestion, improve school attendance, and invite morning conversations and conviviality as the day gets started. Providing breakfast also improves the students’ concentration, alertness, comprehension, memory, and learning. Kids are far more likely to eat breakfast in this setting: our data shows that we are now serving breakfast to over 80% of the kids, whereas only 27% of the children bothered to eat breakfast at the cafeteria before we switched to breakfast in the classroom.

MUSD is currently upgrading school site equipment as well as expanding its centralized storage facility. Food is prepared and cooked at a central location for all elementary schools, whereas middle and high schools have their own food processing facilities, which allows us to leverage their kitchens and only require the central MUSD food service warehouse to deliver raw materials to the school sites.

The school district will eventually have walk-in coolers at all the school sites, including upgrades to existing coolers that may no longer satisfy capacity requirements. A couple of years ago, the central location installed a new freezer, that can hold 250 pallets, which should satisfy capacity requirements for the next 20 years.

Career Technical Education: Hands-On learning like never before

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May 2018

By Frédéric M. Martin, MUSD Community Engagement Consultant

The Madera Unified District is about to leapfrog into the next generation in education practice with a uniquely innovative program currently named concurrent enrollment. In two years, MUSD will make history as it launches a first-in-California educational experience in a state-of-the-art facility to be located across the street from the recently opened Virginia Lee Rose elementary school. The new program aims to deliver a multifaceted, participatory environment to stimulate middle school students’ interest by replacing the traditional lecture format, with a fully engaging teaching formula wherein students don’t just listen and take notes, but actively experience learning. Encompassing six core programs — Agriculture, Engineering/Robotics, Health, Public Safety, Entrepreneurship and Visual/Performing Arts. The six main topics are designed to seamlessly integrate into their corresponding and fully operational MUSD high school career pathways.

Eighth-grade students will explore their interests through the pathways, without locking them into a specific track, but rather expose them to all core subjects laid out before them. The students’ in-depth exposure to the programs will help them discover unsuspected interests and help them integrate knowledge via hands on experience as they participate in the laboratory environment available to them in the new facility.

The program’s goal is simple and straightforward: students will feel empowered and engaged. Study after study demonstrate that CTE lab environments stimulate interest and voluntary participation like no other educational program, resulting in sharply improved grades and graduation rates.

As Sandon Schwartz, MUSD Deputy Superintendent and Rosalind Cox, Director, Facilities Planning/Construction Management stated at the start of our interview: “some students become disengaged in the educational process, at the start of their freshman year, at which time, we can already identify the students who will have a hard time, making it through the four years of high school.”

The CTE (Career Technical Education) lab courses program, already in place, gives students access to hands on courses in a lab environment, but not until their junior or senior high school year. For some students, that’s too late into their high school career, and the new program will engage them earlier in their academic journey.

Seeing real world applications at an earlier age will enhance their interest by replacing the traditional educational system of lecture driven learning; with the new process, students will work on projects, in collaborative teams, self- explore, and absorb self-motivated, lifelong learning skills.

Today, the MUSD middle schools are growing, almost to capacity and making a unique, shared laboratory facility available to all middle schools in the district makes economic and academic sense. The concurrent enrollment project is similar to the CART (Center for Advanced Research and Technology) model in Clovis. CART was designed as a joint venture with the Fresno Unified School District to deliver similar services to Fresno area high school students. Madera-native Todd Lile, MUSD’s superintendent, taught labs at CART and his invaluable experience and firsthand exposure to palpable results in the improvement of student performance guided the decision process.

The new 38,000 square feet building will be made available to all eligible MUSD eighth-graders with two, daily, 600-student sessions, mornings and afternoons. The students will have three classes at the interactive center and three classes at their own school campus. Although there is no comparable program anywhere in California, a similar program, called STEAM, was recently launched in South Carolina.

The school district is in the process of formulating the program’s application criteria. Concurrent enrollment will give access to the facility to, roughly half of the Madera eighth-grade student body in the initial implementation of the program, scheduled to launch in the 2020-2021 school year. Look for more information on the program and how to enroll your children on the MUSD website and in future issues of the We Believe Newspaper.