Riverview Employee Highlight
Through a constant smile and enthusiasm for her work, Terri Baldwin radiates warmth and kindness; traits she passes down to the students who she interacts with every day at Tolt Middle School. Working at the middle school as a Cook and as a long-tenured member of Riverview’s Food Services team, Baldwin reflects back on fifteen years in the Riverview School District, all at Tolt, and talks about the challenges and experiences she has had along the way.
Our Communications Coordinator, Michael Ward, had a chance to sit down and talk with Terri in this latest Employee Highlight.
What is it like working with middle school kids every day?
I love it. I really love it. I find them fascinating. They come in as elementary school students and they leave here at the end of 8th grade as high school students. They are totally changed, not just in appearance, but in the way they think and the things they say. They seem so lost at first (laughs). But then they leave thinking they are ready to change the world. It’s just an amazing time for them and us.
Can you compare now to when you started 15 years ago?
Oh wow...well, we had candy bars and sugary snacks back then and we didn’t have Smart Snacks. You could just offer anything you could sell and make money from. Nowadays, things have to meet the Smart Snacks guidelines. I remember we had the slushie machine. It was a mess, but that was a lot of fun. Yeah, I guess, it was totally different.
It’s a different way of thinking. Kids were more active back then and engaged in more activities, but nowadays, nutrition is much more of a focus. And over the last 15 years, we have learned so much more about how bad all the processed food can be and that stuff out of the ground is important and good for you. It is definitely important that we all educate ourselves, including us of course, to offer healthier options.
Describe the culture of working in food services. A lot of people stay. Why is that?
This job is just a lot of fun and I would say, although, we may not often see the other school cooks and staff all that often, in the individual kitchens, we do feel like a family. It’s a fun job and, being part-time, I never get tired of my job. We get the summer to recoup and then we are back for another year! (Laughs).
This district is awesome to work for and the people are great and everything that happens cannot happen without everyone else supporting one another. There is a sense of community that makes all of this pretty cool. Our district pushes towards excellence and when I think where we were when I started 15 years ago to where we are today - this is a really good school district. I wish my kids were younger and could do it over again out here.
What challenges do you face in this job?
How quick can you move? (Laughs). (An afternoon bell rings). Because of that!
You don’t want any glitches to occur because we are basically bell-to-bell. From the time I come in the morning, I am watching the clock; and not because I want to go home, it’s how much time do I have between kids coming by and food needing to be prepared.
There’s no wasted time.
No. There can’t be. Time is always a big challenge and if too many out-of-the-ordinary things occur, we can be in a world of trouble. We always have to stay on top of different schedules, because Fridays can be half-day or early release days and we have student helpers that we have to make sure we stay on top of their schedules, so we know they will be here to lend a hand.
Are you able to recommend recipes and come up with new ideas that you can present to Kaye (Wetli, Supervisor of Food Services), or how does that work?
New recipe ideas go through the process of being analyzed.
And they have to meet certain requirements...
Right, for example, the food we serve cannot have too much salt or too much sugar. It has to fall into a category that is going to count as one of the components that make up approved lunch or breakfast items. We might find a recipe at home that we like and think, “Wow! This is great, we should see about offering this to the kids!”
There’s this one salad that comes to mind - I think of it as a salad that makes broccoli taste delicious, you know? (Laughs). We will get that analyzed and if it falls into the right categories, or if we have to tweak a few things here or there, we will. Once the analysis is complete, they craft the recipe for it and make sure it meets the guidelines.
How have programs like Farm to Table, Taste Washington Day, and the new guidelines you mentioned, changed the work you do? Do you find those initiatives and programs are successful, or are Tolt students ignoring healthier options or gravitating more towards them?
They have worked to an extent I think. Before, kids would have to take like one apple or one orange, but there are so many items offered now for them on the salad bar. We have sampled some “weird” stuff they have not ever heard of in their life, but they try it! And I see kids shift and think to themselves, “Oh! That’s not so bad!” Here at Tolt, kids seem more adventurous. Sometimes, something new doesn’t draw a lot of attention, but we have discovered that when we make something new a second time, it will go even faster.
What are some of the common misconceptions you experience and deal with in this role? How do you work through those?
People’s perceptions come to mind; that we only serve food pre-packaged or frozen out of the box and put it on a pan. I don’t think people realize the options we do provide. But, it is also a different consumer at the elementary, middle, and I imagine, the high school level. We do provide more than just corn dogs, pizzas, chicken burgers, etc. At the middle school, we have a great opportunity to introduce new recipes and provide alternatives. For example, we have meals made from scratch everyday - salads are made fresh daily and soups, when we can offer them, are made fresh each day. There are a lot of options here. Some kids, unfortunately, just will not set foot in the lines offering those different items. And we encourage and talk up the options and try and tempt them into realizing that you can get the “cool” stuff and all the other stuff as well.
But overall, I feel great support from the parents and the district. And the public is always welcome to have a meal with us, so I would just urge anyone with doubts to come see it first-hand. I think they will be surprised at what they see!