The contributions that Brenda Fritzler has made to health and wellness in western Nebraska go far beyond her job as Food Service Director for Chadron Public Schools, leading to her selection for a 2017 Service Award from the Nebraska Society for Health and Physical Education (SHAPE).
“She has done an outstanding job for us and is very deserving,” said Chadron Superintendent Dr. Caroline Winchester, who nominated Fritzler for the award. “I was excited when I heard she won.”
The SHAPE Service Award is given yearly to members who have provided outstanding health and wellness contributions in their field of teaching or supervision. Dr. Matt Bice, SHAPE Nebraska president, said the organization was impressed with Fritzler’s accomplishments.
“She contributes beyond most and has a direct impact on the health of our state,” Bice said. “She greatly contributes to efforts of making Nebraska a healthy place to live and raise children.”
In the past decade, Fritzler implemented nutrition programs as the Nutrition Coordinator for nine Head Start programs in western Nebraska, where she received recognition during reviews for being one of few programs that focused on homemade meals that were prepared onsite each day.
“While many programs were turning to primarily processed foods that children in the 3 to 5 age group prefer to eat, the head start programs that I oversaw were focused on developing food experiences for children that would help to broaden their views of the food around them,” she said.
During the three years Fritzler has been at Chadron schools, Winchester said, Fritzler’s biggest contribution to health and wellness has been to push programs like breakfast in the classroom and grab-and-go breakfasts. These efforts tripled the amount of K-2 students eating a morning meal, and participation at the middle school skyrocketed from an average of 17 students to 130 students per day. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for students, Fritzler said, as it sets the tone for their school day and ensures they are receiving proper nutrition.
“In younger grade levels, school nurses were observing that many students were being sent to them for illness issues only to discover that it was in fact a hunger related issue,” Fritzler said. “After breakfast participation increased, not only did nurse visits decline, a bonus observed by the teachers was that students were paying attention more and being less disruptive in class.”
Fritzler credited her staff and school administrators as having a large role in the success of the expanded breakfast program. “It’s been a team effort that wouldn’t have been possible without others who were willing to work with those changes,” she said. “I owe much of this recognition to them.”
Fritzler’s talent for fostering student nutrition and making food service fun is apparent in everything she does, Winchester said.
“She makes sure that what’s being served for lunches are things that appeal to kids,” Winchester said. “When we had the solar eclipse here, she planned a picnic. And she didn’t just pack sack lunches, either, she created a fun menu that worked off that theme. She does a great job working with teachers and staff to create a very positive experience for kids.”
Outside of her job duties, Fritzler serves on the Chadron Public Schools Coordinated Health Board, which works to better understand areas needing improvement related to health activities within the district. Working with children of all ages to help them to better understand healthy options and encouraging them to make healthy choices is a passion that she has had since her children were born, Fritzler said.
“I was very honored to have been nominated by Dr. Winchester and am thankful that my work in the area of nutrition is being recognized,” she said.
Fritzler will receive the Service Award on Nov. 6 at the SHAPE Nebraska Fall Conference in Lincoln. She is employed by Lunchtime Solutions, the company that manages Chadron’s food service program. Lunchtime Solutions feeds more than 50,000 students each school day across the Midwest.