The St. Clair County School System has a new Child Nutrition Program director. Her name is Rachel Fowler.
Fowler took over just before the end of the first semester in late November after former CNP director Judy Sampley retired after 12 years of service.
Before accepting this position, Fowler was the CNP director at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in downtown Birmingham, a position she held for three years.
Fowler has been a registered dietician 1998, and has been in multiple settings concerning nutrition and healthcare.
"I did not get interested in nutrition until I was at Rollins College in central Florida," Fowler said. "I started working in the restaurant business and fell in love with it."
Fowler said she did it all – from busboy, waiting tables, bartender, cook, delivery, waitress, and manager.
"I was in the catering business back in the 1980’s," Fowler said. "I was always interested in nutrition, but I never pursued it."
She decided to go back and get her Master’s Degree in nutrition from UAB, and finished in 1998. When the opportunity arose for her to get into child nutrition at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, she jumped at it.
"St. Clair County is such a perfect match for me," Fowler said. "I love the size. It is large, but not unmanageable. All the lunchroom managers here do such a fantastic job. They get to know their students, and they care about these kids. I love the rural community. People here are so wonderful, and they have welcomed me with open arms."
Fowler and her family live in Cahaba Heights. She and her husband, Michael, have two daughters. Frances is 12 while Abby is 11. They attend Liberty Park Middle School.
"It is a very easy commute for me right up Interstate 59," Fowler said.
The St. Clair County School System is home to 19 schools and 11 lunchrooms.
"The Healthy/Hunger Free Kids Act is a federal law that passed a couple of years ago," Fowler said. "It mandated certain changes in school lunches. When they were initially implemented here, it wasn’t the most popular change that took place. I think people were surprised that all of the sudden the menus changed. The menus followed the guidelines, but there was a lot of different ways to interpret them. The menus were not super popular when they were first introduced."
Fowler said she and the staff have made some changes to the menus even since January of this year.
"We are really getting some positive feedback," Fowler said. "It’s actually a great law. We are charged with serving a variety of different types of vegetables. Everything from dark green vegetables, red/orange vegetables to starchy vegetables. It gives us the types of vegetables and fruits we are required to serve every day. It’s a great benefit."
Fowler said they also implemented more whole grain in order to have reduction in sodium and trans fat.
"The law makes meals very healthy," Fowler said. "We’re finding that we can marry healthy, kid-friendly, delicious and appealing all into one. That’s what our goal is for the rest of the school year. We’re trying to find that happy medium."
When asked just how many students ate lunches provided by the schools, Fowler said it varies from school to school.
"We do have higher participation in the elementary schools, which is typical nationwide," she said. "It drops as the children get older and on into high school. I would say 60 to 80 percent of our students participate in our lunch programs."
These 11 lunchrooms also provide breakfast for students, but Fowler said it was not as popular as lunch.
"A lot of students eat at home," she said. "Unfortunately, a lot of our students skip breakfast. But we have anything from pancakes, sausage, sausage biscuits, French toast, eggs, waffles, pop tarts, fruit and milk."
Fowler added that it is well documented that kids who eat breakfast do better in school, are better behaved, score better academically, perform better on the playing field and court, and just do better overall.
Fowler said the CNP budget operates in the black, and it is a revenue-producing department.
"I receive so much support from Superintendent Jenny Seals," Fowler said. "She cares so much about the students in this school system. During the snow and ice three weeks ago, she had the wisdom to stop those school buses from rolling. She made sure the kids were safe, warm, and fed in the schools. I know nobody wants to stay at school, and they want to be home with their families in a state of crisis. But they were in the best, safest place they could be. The schools provided supper that night and breakfast the next morning for those students."
Seals said Rachel Fowler is very personable, understanding, andÊknowledgeable about the Child Nutrition Program.
"She is a team player and values relationships with the school employees," Seals said. "We are very fortunate to have her as our director in this county. ÊRachel’s expertise as a dietitian, partnered with each school child nutrition staff brings healthy and appealing meals to the students of St. Clair County."