Multi-districts — When it comes to feeding hungry children, Monica Collier and Melissa Alley do everything they can to get nutritious and delicious meals onto as many plates as possible.
The two were recently recognized for their efforts. Collier, director of dining services at Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, was awarded “Director of the Year” by the School Nutrition Association of Michigan.
Alley, food service director at Sparta Area Schools and Comstock Park, received the annual Chartwells K12 National Leader of the Year award. Both women are employed through Chartwells, which contracts with school districts to meet food service needs.
Both have implemented ways for students to provide input on what they like to eat and what they want added to the menu by implementing new concepts like Global Eats, which highlights food from different countries; and Student Choice, which lets students pick future menu items.
They both offer Discovery Kitchen demonstrations for students to sample new food. Young taste testers give feedback in person, over text messaging or through a survey.
“Samples gauge their interest and if you give (students) a try, that’s how you know if it’s a good menu item and keep it cost effective,” Collier said. “When students feel empowered to have a say, they start speaking up more.”
‘I want students to have every opportunity to eat as many meals here as they can.”— Monica Collier, director of dining services at Godfrey-Lee Public Schools
For the SNAM award, Collier was judged on program enhancement, staff development, and school and community involvement in regards to food services. She said ensuring every student has a well balanced diet and several opportunities to eat food at school drives her every day.
“It was very emotional to see I was recognized on a high level,” she said. “It means so much to me to have a district that stands behind me and supports me on my ideas. Without my staff and my district I would not have won that award; we all won that award.”
Collier has also implemented breakfast carts before school and dinner for students who stay after school for sports or extracurricular activities for more than 30 minutes.
“Being in a Community Eligibility Provision district (for schools and school districts in low-income areas), I want students to have every opportunity to eat as many meals here as they can,” she said.
Fruit Parfaits and Iced Coffee
Alley received the annual Chartwells award for innovation, commitment to excellence and fostering community partnerships. She serves as dual director at both Sparta and Comstock Park, and was nominated for the award by area Chartwells Director Erik Neering, with the support of Sparta Superintendent Joel Stoner and Comstock Park Superintendent David Washburn.
She was nominated for going above and beyond in various ways, from sending out monthly newsletters and providing online nutrition resources on her schools’ websites to securing grants and implementing new concepts like Global Eats and Student Choice.
Alley has also overseen the post-pandemic reintroduction of a deli line at Sparta Middle School, and helped bring iced coffee to the high school.
“It’s just trying to do different things so I can get the best quality food and choices for the students,” she said. “That’s always my goal.”
Students like senior Zach Slauter appreciate Alley’s work and enjoy having input when it comes to meal choices. He said he values Alley’s eye for quality foods. His favorite item is a fruit parfait served at the high school; he said it’s the best he’s ever had.
“It was actually kind of fun to have to vote on what we had for lunch,” Zach said. “I really did enjoy that.”
A 1998 Sparta graduate, Alley said she loves working at her alma mater.
“It was just a great opportunity for me … to come back to where I grew up, where I graduated from,” she said. “And Comstock Park is where I lived, and where my kids go to school. So I couldn’t say no.”
Alley doesn’t get to spend as much time with students as she’d like, but when she does it’s a highlight.
“My favorite part of my job is feeding students. I love providing taste testing events, student choice events, anything to get students’ feedback on what they enjoy eating and what they would like us to provide.”
Riley Kelley contributed to this story.