Carolyn Thomas: Take a Bite with Us

Carolyn Thomas, Macomb Intermediate School District


Good morning everybody. I’m Carolyn Thomas from the Macomb Intermediate School District. I would like to share with you a story that Colleen and Abby asked if I would talk to you about. While, personally, I didn’t think this was a monumental piece of “Secret Sauce,” but in the wind up it turned out to really be quite an impactful program.

By a show of hands, because I didn’t quite see it all, who did the Apple Crunch this year or last year? Awesome, so I’m preaching to the choir because I’m going to talk to you about the Macomb Intermediate School District’s Apple Crunch.

We entered into the Apple Crunch for the first time in 2018. I am part of our district wellness committee, and for those of you who are familiar with what an ISD is, we are a county level district that provides support services for all of the general education districts. However, in Macomb County, we host the largest special needs based education program in the state, and we actually had the privilege of having the Special Education international director, Timothy Shriver. When he came and spoke at our opening day last year for the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics, he shared that Macomb ISD is the largest special needs based program in the entire country, so that’s pretty cool.

We serve about 2,000 students with varying levels of cognitive, physical, emotional and behavioral special needs. Our students range in age from, we say three but we really start taking in at about 18 months in what’s called our MIPS program which is the infant and preschool program, and they range in age through 26.

We participated in the Apple Crunch as a whole in all of our eleven buildings that we have. Crunching into an apple for us seems like a really simple activity, doesn’t it? But, for the 2,000 students that we have, we recognized that this activity was not accessible to all of our students, especially those who had difficulty eating solid foods and swallowing. Our wellness committee had members from every building and every Special Education program. We came together and we really wanted to participate, so we figured out a way to modify this apple crunch for our district so that everyone could participate.

What you’re looking at is last year’s flyer that we sent out to every building and to every Special Education program in those buildings to talk about how we were going to do this. Students who needed special accommodations, I worked with my co wellness committee chair, his name is Nick Devault, and we came up with a way that each and every student in our program could participate, even those that were on liquid diets. We provided traditional apples for those who could do it. We also provided apple slices for those who needed that, we provided apple sauce for our blending, pureeing and grinding meals. And for those students that were on liquid diets, we had to come up with an alternative. Most apple ciders are not pasteurized, but we were able to find a Macomb County local source for pasteurized apple cider at a farm.

In addition to doing this, we wanted to expand our farm to school participation through the micro-purchasing part of our procurement. So, we sourced not just locally, but we decided to source what we call hyper locally, and we did everything right within Macomb county. We worked with local producers at every level, because as it turned out we couldn’t get one local producer to give everything to us.

Westview Orchards in Romeo provided the solid apples for us. Peterson Farms in Shelby provided our sliced apples. And kind of through a fluke, because we couldn’t get our regular apple sauce from our normal supplier because I was a little bit late on the eight-ball, so Blake’s Orchards in Armada does apple sauce and they were happy to provide the apple sauce for us. And then, a very small cider mill in Bruce township by the name of Hy’s pasteurize their apple cider, so I was able to comfortably bring that in for the about 155 students who had to have a liquid product.

We had our 18 - 26-year-old mild cognitively impaired students go with myself and my Wellness Committee cochair, Nick Devault. We went to Westview Orchards to pick up all 3,000 apples. We had every staff member in the buildings also participate. It really required a nice cooperative work ethic for those kids and a little bit of experience, because we brought all the apples back to Lutz School for Work Experience, put them in different boxes for buildings, and the students did all that. So, they got some great work experience, math skills and they learned about local produce at the same time. Then, the honors students of that building got to go with Nick and the van driver and they went out to every building and dropped everything off.

I can tell you, personally, this was our poster that we had in every one of our ISD buildings this year doing it. I promised Abby Harper I would not post a picture of her in her apple costume, so I didn’t, but she came to the all school assembly we had at Lutz School and dressed up as an apple and we had a lot of fun. Kaitlin Wojciak was there this year with us, too. It was really an awesome thing. I have to share, very quickly, these two kids were part of the all school assembly at Lutz.

One of the takeaways, as I told you in the beginning, was I really didn’t think this was as impactful a thing as it turned out to be. I wanted our district to participate just like everyone else, the only difference was we had to find a way to modify so that each and every one of our 2,000 kids could do it. I hope I don’t tear up talking about this, but just a couple weeks ago I got a letter in the mail from one of our emotionally impaired junior high students. I’ll try not to cry, because this is why I do what I do. They said, “God bless you for what you did, because my son has to sit at the dinner table every night and listen to his sister and brother talk about all the things they did. That day, he came home with his sticker from Westview Orchards and was first in line to talk about what he did. You made it normal for my son. Thank you.”