SNF Scholarship Series: ANC First Timer Jessie Coffey, RD, Nutrition Educator, Lincoln Public Schools, Nebraska

Welcome to the 2016 SNF Scholarship Series! We are thrilled to revisit this popular series, in which we connect with your SNA colleagues from around the country to learn more about them and how an SNF scholarship is helping them pursue goals and achieve their dreams. Our First Timer recipients were nominated by a supervising director to attend their first Annual National Conference in San Antonio, Texas. We’ll meet our First Timers and their directors in the weeks leading up to ANC. Please visit the SNA website to learn more about ANC 2016 in San Antonio.

Jessie Coffey has been a nutrition educator in Lincoln Public Schools for eleven years, and an SNA member for three, but this year she will find herself at her very first ANC thanks to a First Timer scholarship. When LPS director Edith Zumwalt submitted her nomination, Coffey was cautiously optimistic; when they received word that Coffey had won, they were ecstatic.

“I sent [Edith] the link to the First Timer award and said, ‘What do you think?’” recalled Coffey. “She submitted it immediately and before long she emailed me and said, ’We got it!’ and it was just really very exciting.”

It was Zumwalt who helped Coffey become an SNA member in the first place, so it seems only fitting that the two will travel to San Antonio together for Coffey’s very first national conference.

“She was always forwarding me emails from SNA, and I finally realized that I needed to be getting all of this information for myself!” laughed Coffey. “I do a lot of the marketing, and joining [SNA] myself gave me access to marketing materials—like National School Lunch Week and National School Breakfast Week—and other members-only resources.”

LPS director Edith Zumwalt has been in school nutrition herself for almost 26 years, and has worked alongside Coffey for the last ten.

“I nominated Jessie because I want her to have the opportunity to attend a national conference,” Zumwalt explained. “She does a lot with special diets, and I know there will be sessions on that topic. Our district recently received a large farm-to-school grant, and I thought it would be helpful for her to hear ideas on farm-to-school in [San Antonio]. Going to ANC will benefit Jessie professionally in many ways.”

For Coffey, the conference means the opportunity to drill deeper into the topics that consume most of her work day: farm-to-school, local food, social media and marketing, and special diets and menuing.

“I’m looking forward to sessions on social media, marketing, and program promotion, to see what other schools are doing and what works for them,” shared Coffey. “We are also trying to do better with getting student input on meals and food items, doing that via technology, and we want to see what options are available to us there as well.”

Connecting with students is an important part of her job, which is why Coffey is so determined to improve LPS’s marketing practices. One of her favorite programs is an afterschool cooking program sponsored by the LPS Nutrition Services department.

“It’s one of our most longstanding programs,” said Coffey. “I usually have two schools per quarter, and I use dietetic interns from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln—I need volunteers, and they need volunteer hours, so that works out pretty well. We work with the kids to help them learn how to cook healthy recipes; this exposes kids to reading a recipe and doing food preparation. A lot of kids don’t get to do this at home, so they think it’s just awesome. They get messy, they get to try new foods, and then their parents come and ask us how we got them to try new foods! When the kids make it themselves, they are just more willing to try something.”

Looking ahead to San Antonio, Coffey and Zumwalt have a “divide-and-conquer strategy” in place to maximize the amount of information they can bring home to Lincoln Public Schools.

“I’m interested in learning more about the Smarter Lunchroom concept, and Jessie will be focused on the [farm-to-school] grant,” said Zumwalt. “We may overlap, but by attending different sessions we get to meet different people and get [more] information to bring back to the district. I’m always looking for new ideas, and Jessie will have a lot [to absorb]. The more ideas [we find] the better we can do here in Lincoln.”

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