Joseph Pettit came to Charleston County School District three years ago, moving back to his native South Carolina from Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked in restaurants. Although there were plenty of foodservice opportunities to be had in the Cleveland suburbs, Joseph felt a real desire to return to his roots.
“I have a real passion for teaching and food,” said Pettit. “School nutrition was a great avenue for me to go down, and coming into the district and being able to work with kids is what brought me back.”
“I had no idea what it meant to be a lunch lady,” he continued, with a laugh. “I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I knew I wanted to be close to my family, home in South Carolina, and mentoring students. This job gave me everything I was looking for.”
CCSD is the second-largest district in the state, serving more than 45,000 students. After receiving a Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant in SY 2012-13, a number of CCSD schools implemented breakfast-in-the-classroom; by the time Pettit arrived, the district was serving breakfast in the classroom using a variety of delivery methods, from direct delivery to Grab-n-Go, in about 35-40 schools.
“We do several models of breakfast-in-the-classroom, and in some schools we do ‘hybrids’ where [younger students] do breakfast-in-the-classroom, and older grades come through the line and do traditional breakfast,” explained Pettit. “We’ve come up with a nice Grab-n-Go cart roll-out guide for our principals, our nutrition service managers, and our other supervisors to follow.”
Utilizing a Grab-n-Go cart has also been a successful strategy, says Pettit. In addition to meeting the students where they already are—in the hallway—it allows school nutrition staff to take back the responsibility of handing out food from teaching staff, who can then focus all of their attention on starting the school day as students eat breakfast.
“I know, as a parent, that mornings don’t always go as planned. Breakfast-in-the-classroom options are awesome, because it allows us to surely do what we are here to do, which is to make sure the kids are ready to learn and grow in the classroom,” said Pettit. The BIC model has been so successful, it’s inspired Pettit to think hard about engagement at lunch as well.
“Being there for them where they are—it’s a great model to think about at lunchtime,” he said. “Are we reaching outside of our four walls of the cafeteria to meet them where they are? Breakfast-in-the-classroom was an eye-opener in terms of us actively reaching them instead of waiting for them to come through the line.”
One area where CCSD is investing time and energy is recipe and menu development—not just for school lunch, but for breakfast as well. In fact, it was Pettit’s photos of scratch-made banana bread on Twitter that prompted us to reach out and beg ask for the recipe! While they can’t replicate every recipe for breakfast-in-the-classroom, they work hard to test each recipe to see where it can be served within the given time constraints.
“What you’ve seen us doing on social media isn’t necessarily something we can do at every single school, but we are able to test a recipe completely at a school where breakfast-in-the-classroom is served,” Pettit explained. “We’re trying to see if it’s something we can roll out for BIC. We’ve tested individual parfaits—in a school that does 500+ breakfasts a day—and we pick the schools with the largest BIC numbers because if we can do it there, there’s no excuse not to try it at any other school.”
One way to increase the amount of scratch cooking is to try and move to more “in-house manufacturing” where a recipe is prepared, packaged, and distributed by the school nutrition staff. It’s not a change that happens overnight, but Pettit believes making more food from scratch is an achievable goal, and one they’ll continue to pursue at CCSD.
“I see opportunity for us with breakfast-in-the-classroom,” he said. “It gives teachers a chance to gain focus, and students have something to snack on while they wake up and the teacher leads them through their morning. Breakfast-in-the-classroom creates a community; it brings people together. It serves more than just one person.”