Amanda Bot made her way to Orange County Public Schools from her native Minnesota– where she attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities for her bachelor’s degree–but not before she completed an internship with the Sarasota County School District. The focus on school foodservice made Sarasota Amanda’s first choice for her post-undergraduate internship.
“The Sarasota County Schools program has a school foodservice focus, which is why I applied, and ranked it number one,” explained Amanda. “Luckily I was accepted! SNA membership was a requirement of the internship, so I’ve been a member now for four years.” This year Amanda was granted both an Annual Fund and a Schwan’s scholarship to help her offset the cost of her continuing education; she is currently pursuing her MBA at the University of Tampa.
Amanda is relatively new to Orange County Public Schools—she’ll be celebrating her one-year mark with the district in October. She is the Nutrition Educator, Grand District Manager, and the Summer Feeding Director for a large district of over 187,000 students attending 184 schools.
“OCPS is extremely large; we are a part of the Urban School Food Alliance along with Dallas, New York, Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles,” said Amanda. “We do community eligibility, breakfast-in-the-classroom, pretty much everything!” (Fun fact: OCPS was one of the districts originally funded through the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom initiative!)
In addition to implementing a wide variety of breakfast-in-the-classroom delivery models (“We don’t have a district-wide model, but we go school to school and implement breakfast-in-the-classroom or a second chance; we are actively implementing breakfast carts and second-chance style breakfasts in more schools.”) OCPS operates the largest summer feeding program in the state of Florida. With less than a year in the district under her belt, Amanda enthusiastically took on the program this summer for the first time.
“We had about 250 summer feeding sites operating throughout the summer months, feeding kids from basically the Monday after school ends to the Friday before school starts—we are feeding kids all summer long.”
This summer (2015) Amanda reports that OCPS fed approximately 11,000 meals from their mobile food bus alone, something made possible by a new plan to serve from two local libraries rather than parks.
“Located at the parks, the mobile bus wasn’t getting a lot of traffic but we’ve served about 5000 more meals at the library,” said Amanda. “That was an awesome partnership this year, and I look forward to continuing and hopefully growing that next summer.”
Even with all of her professional responsibilities, Amanda has decided to go back to college, commuting to the University of Tampa at night to obtain her MBA.
“I’ve been doing [my MBA] for about two years, and I’m halfway through the program because I can only take one or two classes per semester—all I can handle with work,” she explained. Traveling from Tampa to Orlando for night classes isn’t easy—or inexpensive—so Amanda applied for scholarships through the School Nutrition Foundation, winning an Annual Fund and a Schwan’s scholarship to help her offset some college costs.
“I’m trying to pay for grad school out of pocket, which is not impossible when I’m taking a class or two a semester, but the added financial help from the scholarship is just that much more,” said Amanda, who described the application process as easy, efficient, and straightforward.
The Schwan’s scholarship was especially meaningful, given Amanda’s history with the company. Not only did she grow up right down the road from their R&D facility in Marshall, Minnesota, she had also been an intern for the company in the past. She encountered the company right in her own cafeteria as a student, as well.
“I grew up knowing Schwan’s and Schwan’s products—we taste-tested their pizzas when I was in school!” laughed Amanda, who went on to work as an intern for the company in college—an internship that pointed her in the direction of school nutrition.
“My first internship [with Schwan] was with a woman who was very passionate about school foodservice. I knew I didn’t want to do clinical dietetics, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do; after that internship, it was pretty clear to me where I wanted to go.”
It’s easy to see that Amanda is one busy, hard-working, and motivated school nutrition professional. So how did she find the time to go through the application process? It was pretty easy, she says.
“I had some essays drafted from when I was applying to internships, so I didn’t have to start from complete scratch, but it’s not too difficult to write a short essay about how a scholarship can help you progress in your career,” explained Amanda. “I’m pursuing the MBA because I think the management and the business background will really help me; it will help me in my career moving forward.”
Going forward, Amanda has three pieces of advice for her fellow school foodservice professionals. First, scholarships are there to help SNA members—so sit down and apply! Second, learn from one another—look at the big picture and keep track of what’s happening at the state level, and nationally. Finally, Amanda urges school foodservice professionals to take charge of their message to spread the positive things going on in your cafeteria.
“We have a nationwide struggle with the perception of school food. It’s starting to change, but we do get a lot of publicity surrounding school foodservice and it’s coming from an uneducated viewpoint. Using social media more and more we can promote school foodservice, and make sure that the good things we are doing are being recognized.”
“As SN professionals we do our job and do it well, and we’re happy with that, but if we don’t toot our own horn once in a while no one knows! Push out all the positive things your district is doing so it’s not all negativity out there.”
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