Tamara Earl, Mason City Schools Child Nutrition Supervisor, is a national leader when it comes to serving healthy, delicious meals to school children.
Her efforts to improve nutrition and enhance communication with students and families are paying off in a big recognition from her peers. On January 17, Earl will receive the Silver Rising Star Award at the National Foodservice Achievement Management Excellence (FAME) award ceremony in San Diego during the School Nutrition Association’s 2016 School Nutrition Industry Conference.
Earl’s ingenuity and collaborative spirit are felt throughout the district that serves about 22,500 meals a week. She’s worked with first grade STEM Center teacher Shannon Sterle to help Mason Early Childhood Center students grow their own veggies that are then served in the school’s cafeteria, developed Chef to School projects, and produced a collaborative Let’s All Go to the Lunchroom video to explain the lunch process to elementary students while tapping the talents of the high school chorale department and a video firm that included Mason High School graduates.
“I have a passion to connect the cafeteria experience for students to the total school environment,” said Earl. “My most rewarding moment was the beautiful sight of a courtyard lined with produce in grow bags! This was the culmination of the department’s “Farm to School” project. It began with the purchase of grow bags when I was on a summer trip with other directors in Rhode Island. Then, through the generosity of a local farmer who donated seedlings and the partnership of a science teacher whose students did the planting, an entire courtyard was lined with grow bags of mesclun, bibb lettuce, etc. The best part was being able to serve the produce in the cafeteria grown by students!”
This year, Earl is focused on providing signage to visually identify allergens in foods served. These signs communicate to students who do not speak English as their first language, and help students who might not yet be able to read. This focus is an enhancement to the ingredient, nutritional, and allergen information that has been available on the district website and in the cafeterias for many years.
“Tamara Earl is an exemplary leader in our district. Over the years, many new federal mandates have made school meal programs around the country struggle. It hasn’t been easy, but Tamara has worked diligently to ensure that Mason’s children are getting tasty, healthy meals at a great value - while ensuring that her program is self-sustaining and doesn’t tap into any of the district’s general funds,” said Mike Brannon, Assistant Superintendent of Operations.