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Alumni Robert Lewis Named Director of the Year by the California School Nutrition Association

Members gather at annual conference with winner.

University of La Verne alumnus Robert Lewis, DPA ’08, MPA ’03, nutrition services chief for the El Monte City School District, has been named Director of the Year by the California School Nutrition Association for his efforts to enact healthy eating habits, education, and resources to the 14 schools in his district.

Lewis received the award last month during the association’s annual conference. He was among 2,000 attendees representing public administrators, cafeteria managers and directors, cafeteria staff, and industry vendors.

“It was a complete surprise to me when my name was called for the award,” Lewis said.

Lewis has been on a mission since joining the El Monte City School District in 2008 to provide students with healthy meals to meet their nutritional needs. He oversaw the removal of fried food, chips, cookies, and desserts in every cafeteria. Students enrolled in K-8th grade programs now have the opportunity to enjoy fresh salad bars, heart-healthy snacks, and whole grains.

In May, Lewis worked closely with community partners and stakeholders to apply for a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The grant offers free lunches to every student until 2022. In addition, every student receives breakfast every morning and supper for students enrolled in after school programs.

Throughout the academic year, students are exposed to nutritional lesson plans that integrate math and science. The lessons are led by nutritional experts, who also share easy-to-make recipes at home. Renowned chefs and celebrities, including the Food Network’s Melissa d’Arabian, chef Nancy Silverton, and actress Amanda Seyfried, have made appearances as part of the program.

“These students know more than I did growing up when it comes to spouting off nutritional facts,” Lewis said. “It warms my heart to know that what they are learning today will stay with them for years to come.”

According to Lewis, 1 out 10 high school students graduate with high blood pressure. And, 1 out of 3 are at risk for Type 2 Diabetes.

“If we don’t help them now, they won’t live as long as our generation,” Lewis said.

Lewis was 30 years old when he returned to school to earn his bachelor’s degree. He credits his University of La Verne education with giving him the moral imperative to do something meaningful in life. He said he also took to heart Dr. Jack Meek’s lessons on collaborative policy.

“I couldn’t do what I do without collaboration,” Lewis said. “It is a whole district and town that is making changes for the better.”

The City of El Monte School District has received numerous accolades for its fight against childhood obesity. From 2010-2011, all 14 schools won silver awards from the HealthierUS School Challenge enacted by former first lady Michelle Obama. Over the last seven years, four schools achieved gold status by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, eight schools achieved silver, and five achieved bronze.