A School Lunch Hero Hangs Up Her Cape
School Lunch Hero Day is a fun way to acknowledge a seriously important job: Feeding our children good healthy food to help them learn.
This year we honor one of Michigan schools’ most dedicated school lunch hero: Doreen Simonds, director of Nutrition and Purchasing at Waterford Public Schools. Doreen is retiring in June after 34 years with the school. We reminisce with her and her colleagues about some of the highlights of her tenure, as well as her inspirational leadership style.
Doreen and her colleagues showing their school lunch spirit during a special event.
A Perfect Fit
Doreen’s career started when she went back to work when her children were young. They attended Waterford schools and Doreen liked the idea of being home when they got home from school. And having summers off was appealing as she was starting a wedding photography business.
Doreen: I love the challenges and diversity. School Nutrition is so much more than food. It is a teaching and learning experience for everyone involved. I thrive on seeing ideas in our cafes come alive, whether it [is] a new way to use the produce we get from our gardens or recipe ideas that kids bring to us or a creative way that one of our staff teaches others.
Making Her Mark
The passion Doreen has for the school meals program has placed Waterford’s Food and Nutrition Department on the map in terms of state and national recognition, according to Bill Holbrook, Doreen’s boss. “Her care for students is beyond belief,” says Holbrook.
One of the many recognitions for the Waterford school meals program.
Doreen has been an example for the people who work for and with her. “She works very hard, but she doesn’t expect anything more out of us than she does herself,” says Janet Timmreck, who works with Doreen. “She never stops and [always] pushes herself to do more.”
“Doreen inspires me daily; she brings so much energy and enthusiasm to every task,” says Cori Hale, secretary and nutritional analyst at Waterford Public Schools. “Her high standards & determination encourages all of us to push harder.”
Doreen: Our primary business is to support academic success and kids can’t learn without proper nutrition. Students are more comfortable eating what their peers are eating and meal time is not only a time to get fueled up, but also a time to have a break from the pressure of class time. Making [their surroundings] comfortable in our cafes [and] giving them enough time to eat and enjoy the company of their friends is vital to helping our students’ growth.
A Driving Force
Doreen has helped make the Fuel Up to Play 60 a success in her school district. Over the years the district has received many grants that have been used to increase student participation in Fuel Up to Play 60, as well as other physical education and health education equipment and resources, according to Jeff Stevenson, physical education teacher at Pierce Middle School in the Waterford School District.
“All of [these grants] would not have been possible without Doreen Simonds,” says Stevenson. “She was the driving force from the beginning, she built the momentum while others joined, and she maintained the program throughout the years.”
Doreen, Roary the Detroit Lion’s mascot, and Brianna Banka, Youth Wellness Manager at Milk Means More
“We focus so much on reading, math, and other core curriculum that a healthy lifestyle, healthy food choices, and overall wellness are often overlooked,” says Stevenson. “Doreen did not fight the status quo of education, instead she rolled with the punches, showed flexibility, and worked in all the lifelong wellness goals into everything she did – food choices for the cafeteria, wellness programs for the staff and students, and a healthy lifestyle for all of us.”
Top 3 Hits
We asked Doreen what she considers her top 3 food and nutrition ideas or activations in her career (and there are hundreds!). Here’s her list:
- School Breakfast. Doreen implemented Universal Breakfast in the elementary schools and Express Breakfast Kiosks in the secondary schools, which created more access to a healthy breakfast. She also added many healthier choices like yogurt parfaits, smoothies and oatmeal stations thanks to the Fuel Up to Play 60 grants from Milk Means More. Through programs like these, breakfast participation increased greatly and the Waterford Schools Food & Nutrition Services now serves more breakfast than any other district in Oakland County.
- Farm to School. Doreen applied for many grants to create Waterford’s MI GLEAN (Growing, Learning, Educating Agricultural Nutrition) Farm to School programs. These programs include school gardens, a greenhouse and a fruit tree garden. One garden is a Seussical Read & Seed Patch, located at the central office and is used during the school year and the summer feeding program as an outside classroom.
The Seussical Garden
3. MI Place Meet Up and Eat Up summer program: Through Fuel Up to Play 60, Doreen and her staff formed the Food, Fun and Fit program, which provides a combination of physical education and food for their summer feeding program. Waterford has five summer feeding sites; the main one holds daily activities such as the Ready, Set, Grow garden program; Read it and Eat; and Fuel Up to Play Fridays. Doreen and her staff have created MI Place to be community gathering sites where kids and parents can spend time together enjoying great meals and great adventures.
We wish Doreen all the best in her retirement. Something tells us she won’t be slowing down much! To learn more about school meals, visit our Schools page.