Origin: Nisqually Indian Reservation, Oakville, WA
We visited Maria at Miramonte High School late one fall morning where we found the lunch room welcomingly decorated with autumn foliage, pumpkins, gourds, and other signs of the season. Somebody here was responsible for making the school food service environment inviting and homey. Later we learned it was Maria who came in on her days off to decorate.
When we asked Maria where she was from, the first question we usually ask, she proudly replied, “The Indian Reservation in Oakville, Washington. I’m ¾ native American.” Further questioning revealed her tribe is the Nisqually, located on the Nisqually River 15 miles east of Olympia, Washington. “I remember growing up we had fresh caught steelhead salmon, and my grandmother, who was full-blooded, had a garden.”
Maria first came to school food service almost 26 years ago when she and her husband were visiting at his aunt’s house in Mill Valley and the aunt suggested Maria might like working in school lunch. “So we looked at newspaper ads, and there was an ad for a job at Acalanes High School, and I’ve been with the district ever since.” At first she was part time, and then she studied to pass tests and eventually she became a cook and a baker. We asked her what changes she’d seen in the past 25 years. Not surprisingly she told us, as so many long-time employees across the state have, that they used to cook everything from scratch.
What does she like most about her work? “I enjoy seeing the kids grow up,” she said. “They come in as freshmen, and I get to see them change through the years. We all have favorites. Some kids come back to say hi, but a lot go off to universities. My son is at Acalanes High School now.” Diane Dresler, Food Service Director for Acalanes Union High School District, tells us that a big part of the school experience for students is people like Maria, people who see them every day and ask them about their tests and how they are doing.
According to statistics from Miramonte High School’s College and Career Center, 97.8% of its students go on to college, with 81.8% of them attending 4-year colleges and universities. Miramonte is currently ranked 179th in high schools nationwide, down from 89th in 2009.
So what does Maria provide for the 1150 students who attend Miramonte High School? “We serve about 400 students a day, including the a la carte. We make burritos to order, we have salads, sausage, bagels, pasta with meat sauce or Alfredo sauce. The kids like the the Asian rice bowls we serve.”
And at home? Maria tells us she likes to make pork loin or chicken wrapped in bacon.
We know Maria, and thousands of her colleagues serving school lunch, make a positive difference in the school day and life of each student they serve. Maria and her peers provide food in a human and civil way — serving with a smile, caring about those they serve, and loving what they do.