Chris Stamm: Environment Builder
“There are great things happening in Paramount,” says Chris Stamm, director of student nutrition services at 16,000-student Paramount (Calif.) Unified School District. This statement is most likely heard in operations all over the country, but it’s especially true at Paramount. In his 14 years with the district, 12 of those as director, Stamm has started a summer foodservice program, increased participation, especially at the high school level, and gotten the community involved.
“When I was a student in Paramount, I think I was the only one eating in the cafeterias,” says Frank Barraza, senior accounting assistant. “Now the kids are going in for turkey and mashed potatoes. Who would have thought that? Chris is at the top of his game and he has such a passion for the children. This is a high-need area and he understands that.”
Summer program: Last year for the first time ever, the district changed from a year-round calendar to a traditional one, meaning the students, who were used to purchasing meals at schools during the summer, were going to be left without that option. Located in south Los Angeles County, Paramount is an inner-city neighborhood with a higher than average crime rate, according to statistics from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“I didn’t think about the kids’ lives on the weekends or what they were going to do until we thought about what they were going to do all summer long,” Stamm says. “Are the kids going to stay in their apartments and eat whatever they can get their hands on or go out into the streets and maybe get into mischief? I thought, ‘What could we do to help?’”
Stamm got an idea based off of the city’s STAR (Success Through Academics and Recreation) after-school program. The program offers students academic help and recreation time after school. Paramount USD provides a snack for the program, which is funded by a state grant. Stamm thought he could piggyback off the STAR program and start a similar summer program.
“I thought they could work with us to help supervise the kids and continue what they were doing after school,” Stamm says. “They could help keep the kids off the street. The superintendent loved the idea. We brought it to the board of education, and they loved it.”
Fourteen of the district’s schools were open during the summer. At 9 a.m. breakfast was served, followed by a few hours of recreation and arts and crafts time with the STAR staff. At noon, lunch was served. For the first summer foodservice program, more than 100,000 students were served.
“Our schools could be closed, but instead we are opening them up and making the program available,” he says. “To do a summer foodservice program at a park, we knew kids wouldn’t come. We knew the kids knew the schools were a safe zone.
“We didn’t want to do a brown sack lunch in the park,” Stamm says. “Just like everything that we do here, we wanted to make it a ‘wow.’” So the lunch entrée is a barbecue item like hot dogs, burgers or chicken. In addition to the barbecue item, a five-foot salad bar is available for students to select accompanying items like lettuce and tomatoes for the burgers or chili for the hot dogs. Breakfast is a choice between a hot entrée and a cold cereal. A five-foot fruit bar is also offered.