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Mitchell Schools to enhance cafeteria spaces as student breakfast and lunch participation grow

Make way for more cafes and restaurants within the Mitchell School District. As a part of the annual goals for the school district, the Mitchell Board of Education made a goal this summer to increase student participation in the breakfast and lun...

Students eat lunch on Monday in the cafeteria at Longfellow Elementary School in Mitchell. The cafeteria will see cosmetic changes during Spring Break next semester. (Sarah Barclay/Republic)
Students eat lunch on Monday in the cafeteria at Longfellow Elementary School in Mitchell. The cafeteria will see cosmetic changes during Spring Break next semester. (Sarah Barclay/Republic)

Make way for more cafes and restaurants within the Mitchell School District.

As a part of the annual goals for the school district, the Mitchell Board of Education made a goal this summer to increase student participation in the breakfast and lunch programs - and they're doing just that, along with a few more cosmetic changes in the dining spaces.

At the December school board meeting, Food Service Director Leann Carmody and Superintendent Joe Graves revealed that the participation rates have increased, staying on track with the district's goal to rise 5 percentage points by the end of the 2016-17 school year.

The increased participation can be attributed to a greater focus on providing food students like to eat, and this includes more options during the breakfast and lunch times.

"It's all about giving them a choice and when they have a choice, they eat," Carmody said.

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At the middle school, Carmody said the students essentially have five options for lunch everyday, both hot and cold, which makes a big difference on if students will utilize the school lunch or bring their own.

Both the breakfast bar and salad bar offered at the schools are "awesome," Graves said and attracting more students to eat at school.

"They should be welcomed into a cafeteria just like we are welcomed into a restaurant," Graves said. "We don't go into a restaurant and have it presented to us, 'Here's one thing we're offering today.' " I wouldn't go to that restaurant ... Even a place like McDonald's, there's 40 different things you can buy there. That's what Leann has done for our students."

In addition to providing more options, the district will also be enhancing two of its dining areas at the middle school and Longfellow Elementary School.

Instead of cafeterias, the spaces will be called cafes and restaurants, Carmody said.

For the middle school, what was once plainly called the cafeteria will now be called Fear the Ear Cafe. This includes new decor on the walls and a Cornelius theme. The goal for the middle school changes will take place during winter break.

Longfellow is taking a different approach, which is to be completed during spring break, with a cafeteria to be called the Lion's Den. The area is going to receive a fresh coat of paint and Carmody said the word "cafeteria" will be nowhere to be found.

The changing of the names, which was mutual decision between students and administration, along with the minor upgrades, will make it a more appealing place for students to eat.

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"She's improving the ambiance of a restaurant," Graves said. "There is something to that as well. You go into a place and you want to have a certain decor and she's enhancing that as well."

While the changes are mostly cosmetic, both Graves and Carmody think it will have an increasing effect on participation rates.

The upgrades were just one of three goals involving the lunch program. The first was to increase student participation rates and the second goal was to fully comply with all federal regulations.

During the school board's December meeting, Carmody reported that the average number of breakfasts served per day is 401, while last year's average was approximately 308. The average number of lunches served per day is 1,721 compared to last year's 1,577.

As far as the financial status, it was reported that through a combination of efficiencies, such as competitive bidding and elimination expensive items, and higher participation rates, the fiscal decline of the food service program has been reversed this year. In 2015-16, the fund balance declined from July 1, 2015 to Nov. 30, 2015 by $50,534.76. But in the current year, the fund balance has grown by $93,478.02 from July 1 to Nov. 30, 2016.

And while Carmody said she is happy with the increase, she hopes to see it grow even more as the year goes on.

"We're glad to see that everything is paying off and we're seeing results, but I think we'll see them continue to grow," Carmody said. "And hopefully we can introduce more things to the children and things like that."

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