Last menus planned

Published 10:11 pm Wednesday, December 6, 2006

By By LYDIA GRIMES – Features writer
There's a lot more to feeding high school students than standing over a hot stove serving up peas and carrots.
Priscilla West knows all about that. She has been a full-time employee at the W.S. Neal High School lunchroom for 25 years, but with the Christmas vacation, she will retire.
After her children were old enough to go to school, she decided to get a job outside the home. She had an opportunity to work in the school lunchroom as a substitute worker. She went to the job in August of 1981 and within a month was hired on full-time by Coach David Salter, who was the principal. She became lunchroom manager in 1991 and will retire at the end of the year.
The ladies she is talking about are Mary Sheffield and Ann Nelson. They say they will miss West as much as she will miss them.
Over the last 25 years, West has seen many changes in how the school lunchroom works. Many of those changes have taken place in the use of technology. When she began in 1981, records were kept on paper and now they are all computerized. There is a file for every student who eats lunch. Nutrition for students is the most important thing the lunchroom workers do and each student has a file to keep up with what they eat. It is no simple matter to attend to such details for a school full of students.
Cynthia Rodgers, in Atmore, is the supervisor of all Escambia County schools. She makes a menu for each month for each school and that menu doesn't vary very much.
The lunchroom operates on the offer versus serve system. It offers students a balanced meal every day and rather than have the lunches served by workers, the students serve themselves. This gives them a choice in what they eat. The lunchroom serves five food groups each day and the student has to have three servings of those food groups. There is an offering of meat, vegetable, bread, fruit and milk. A typical menu is pizza, broccoli with cheese, tossed salad with salad dressing, crackers, corn and juice. The pizza has the bread, meat and vegetable, which includes three of the food groups. The student still has the option of having vegetables in the salad, corn and broccoli with the juice serving as the fruit.
This sounds like a simple menu, but when served in the school lunchroom, there is much more to it. First of all, a recipe, which is used all over the county, is chosen from the recipe book prepared by Rodgers. Then each recipe's ingredients follow specific guidelines. Kids who have special needs or allergies bring in forms from their doctors detailing what they can or cannot eat.
The process that can seem daunting begins with each student being assigned an identity number. A student comes into the lunchroom, fills his plate and gives his identification number to the person manning the computer. If the student does not have enough nutritious items on his plate, he is sent back to get something else. This also eliminates a student coming through more than one time.
If a student wants more, he can purchase another lunch ticket. The price is $1.75 for students, $2.25 for teachers and $3 for a parent or other guest.
Workers in the lunchroom have a lot more to do than prepare lunch. They also attend workshops and in-service meetings that are state mandated. They are on top of every new idea and ready to do whatever is best for the students who eat every day in the lunchroom.
West was born in Brewton and lived in East Brewton with a family of three sisters, one brother and one stepbrother.
She graduated from W.S. Neal High School in 1963 and really had no big desire as to what she wanted to do. She did get a job working at the old Marlene's Restaurant, which used to be located at the corner of Hwy. 31 and Alco Drive.
She was married in 1967 to Ernie Thomason and they had three boys, Mark, Jim and Kenny.
She settled down to be a stay-at-home mom and wife until the children all were old enough to be in school and she went to work at the lunchroom. She now has three granddaughters, one grandson, another granddaughter on the way and two great-granddaughters in Fort Worth, Texas.
Her husband, Ernie, died in 1995 and she married Bill West in 1999. He, too, is employed with the school system as transportation supervisor for the East Brewton area of Escambia County.