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The Heart of the Cafeteria: Behind the Scenes with the School Lunch Lady at Vanguard Charter Academy

To the students at Vanguard Charter Academy in Wyoming, Michigan, Rebecca Brown is affectionately known as “The Lunch Lady.”  She has been feeding hundreds of children every day at the school for the past seven years, serving the last four as kitchen manager.
 
As a parent of children attending the school, she started as a volunteer and quickly became close with some of the teachers. When an opportunity arose for a paid position in the kitchen, she jumped at the chance, knowing she could make a difference in the lives of the students while also being close to her own kids.
 
As a food services manager, Brown has a big job at Vanguard, which has outperformed the local district for 13 years. She plans the menu, prepares the food, and oversees the serving process. While she has a dedicated staff to help with serving, she remains hands-on to ensure everything runs smoothly. Her organizational skills are crucial to keeping the kitchen running efficiently, which includes using spreadsheets, cheat sheets, and even reminders on her phone.
 
This year Brown has a new challenge as her team transitions from individually packaged meals to bulk meals. This change allows her to have more control over the recipes and the food preparation process. She sees this as an opportunity to encourage kids to try new things and hopes that the new style of serving will be a hit with students.

“The favorites each year are usually chicken nuggets and pizza,” said Brown. “One new item on the menu this year is Frito chili nachos.”



She said through the years she has had some memorable moments with students.

“One day we had red peppers on the menu. A first grader came through the line and started yelling to the rest of his classmates. ‘Hey guys we’re having worms for lunch today!’ Red peppers went great that day,” she laughed.

Brown’s main goal is to make the lunch line a fun and positive experience for the students. While she may not have long conversations with each child due to how quickly the line moves, she goes the extra mile to add bright colors and decorations to jazz up the cafeteria. Celebrating holidays and having theme days throughout the year are some of the ways she brings joy to the students.

“We always celebrate March is Reading Month and there's always a day to dress up as your favorite character,” said Brown. “Last year, I turned my lunch line into “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

Lunch line at Vanguard

Knowing that some children may be struggling with food insecurity, Brown and her team try to make sure every student is well-fed. They have started a "share bin" where students can leave unopened items they don't want, and others can take them if they need extra food. Brown believes that providing nutritious and appealing meals can have a positive impact on children's well-being and academic performance.
 
Brown's coworkers describe her as outgoing, quiet at times, and a manager who runs a tight ship. Her careful planning and preparation ensure that the kitchen operates efficiently and that the students get their meals on time. Her dedication to the job and the students’ well-being is evident in everything she does.
 
As students start the new school year, Brown’s passion for feeding young minds serves as a reminder of the caring and dedicated people working behind the scenes in our schools.
 
Keep up the great work, Rebecca!

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About Vanguard Charter Academy:
Vanguard Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Wyoming, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes over 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.

Visit Vanguard Charter Academy's blog to read more stories like this.