In her first full year managing the Galena Park Middle School cafeteria in Texas, Juana has focused on one thing: leading by example. She came into the position at a very challenging time, but her can-do attitude, positivity, and empathy have turned things around for her staff and students. “We were just coming out of COVID,” she says. “Everyone was tired from being short staffed. I was able to come in and help everyone enjoy their job again. I tried to emphasize that while we all have things going on outside of work, our goal here is to keep kids fed and provide a positive experience.”
Juana's efforts and impact haven’t gone unnoticed. Thao Vo, assistant director of menu planning and food production for the Galena Park ISD, nominated Juana to be this month’s Trayblazer. She says, “Upon her arrival, Ms. Juana was able to gain not only the trust of her staff but also the student body by listening to their needs and providing appropriate accommodations to improve participation. Ms. Juana is an advocate for student nutrition, and her uplifting personality creates an enjoyable working environment for her staff.” Juana is certainly all about spreading kindness. She takes every possible opportunity to encourage her staff and acknowledge what they’re doing correctly, boosting the team with positivity. She’s generous with her “thank yous,” motivating her team with kind words to uplift them and show how appreciated they are.
Juana takes a personal approach to keeping the students nourished. She encourages her staff to interact with the kids and ask about their days in addition to participating in the various activities happening at the school. You’ll always find the cafeteria decorated for holidays, fundraisers, or other school pride occasions. And if there’s a dress-up day, Juana and her employees gladly join in. She adds, “I know everyone is busy and kids only have so long to eat, but simple things like asking how their day is going can make a big difference.” This approach to taking an active role in students’ lives has paid off. Juana recalls how overjoyed she felt when she ran into a student three years after he’d left the middle school and he still remembered her name. “That was so rewarding, and I want my staff to always have that same feeling.”
Talking and connecting with students also extends to the meals Juana serves as she finds ways of working in local favorites into her menus. She was able to make albondigas (Mexican meatball soup) from scratch, and it was an immediate hit with the students — participation spiked! Some were skeptical when she suggested making chicken and vegetable potstickers, but it was also a delicious success.
Galena Park Middle school is fortunate to be able to provide three free meals a day to their students — breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The meals she serves are supported by some key products from General Mills, including bulk granola and yogurts for parfaits, cinnamon rolls, and other student favorites like Cinnamon Toast Crunch™, Cocoa Puffs™ and Lucky Charms™ cereals. Plus, she says anything pizza related is sure to be popular.
Juana’s commitment to keeping students nourished whether at school or at home is truly an inspiration. That she does it all with a smile makes it even more meaningful. She sums up her outlook on life and her job very well when she says, “Treating everyone with kindness takes you a long way.” We completely agree.
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