Bordelon continues tradition of service

Liberty Hill High School Cafeteria Manager Michele Bordelon and LHISD Child Nutrition Services Director Mary Sheffield are shown in the high school cafeteria as they prepare for the first day of school Tuesday. (Christine Bolanos Photo)

Liberty Hill High School Cafeteria Manager Michele Bordelon and LHISD Child Nutrition Services Director Mary Sheffield are shown in the high school cafeteria as they prepare for the first day of school Tuesday. (Christine Bolanos Photo)

By Christine Bolaños

When Michele Bordelon took a job as a part-time French fry maker at Liberty Hill ISD in 1998 she had no idea it was the first step in a career spanning nearly two decades.

As the cafeteria manager at Liberty Hill High School, Bordelon is charged with ensuring everything food-related runs smoothly. She bonds with the students during their breakfast and lunch breaks and often runs into them around town. It is not uncommon for Bordelon to serve the children of former students who have chosen to continue making a home in Liberty Hill.

“The first thing that really we want to focus on is the food. We have a very regiment schedule. We strive every day to put out something that’s appealing,” she explained. “Our kids today they have a different palette than when I was younger. They’re more sophisticated. They eat with their eyes. We try hard to make food that is appealing, tastes good and is healthy.”

Bordelon said she begins her day by figuring out what food will be available and how much of each item. She’ll make schedules for her staff and move forward with the day.

“The good thing about my staff is everyone has the same opinion. We live in the community. Our kids have gone here. Our grandchildren have come here. So we all have a vested interest in the community and in the kids and it really reflects in the work that they do,” Bordelon shared.

Her career began at what was then the high school but is now the Intermediate campus. She only worked three hours a day as she was looking for something part-time that would work with her children’s schedules. When she transitioned over to what is now the junior high school campus she worked her way up to manager. Then in 2005, she moved to the high school and became cafeteria manager at that campus.

While the district’s food services director, Mary Sheffield, is responsible for the menu and its nutritional analysis, Bordelon and her team are responsible for the prepping, the cooking and the appearance.

“We have a set menu so we know what we’re going to serve every day. There are certain items that we serve every day. We have the build-your-own sandwich and salad bar, box salads that we prepare. They can grill their sandwich or have whatever they’d like on it,” she added.

Bordelon said the reason she has stuck to her job is simple: it’s the people she works with, it’s the students she serves, and the community she is a part of.

“They come in hungry, they come in starving, they tend to be all over looking and wanting to know what’s here and what’s there. It’s more relaxed than in a classroom I imagine,” Bordelon said of the students. “There are the students that are very outgoing and the students that are not so outgoing. We have to kind of draw them in.

“The ninth graders kind of hang around the safe food such as the pizza and hamburgers before they start to venture into other kinds of foods,” Bordelon explained. “There’s all kinds of different idiosyncrasies. Some eat the same thing every day. Some try something new and different every day.”

For Bordelon, running into students — former and current — is an ordinary occurrence.

“Some of the students that I see now I run into them outside of school. It’s a little different if I’m outside school. Some of the students, they’re adults now with kids of their own. Some of the students have worked here,” she grinned. “Our neighbors, my nieces and nephews, went to school here. It’s a family. The community is really interwoven. It’s not unusual for me to run into somebody who years ago I used to serve them fries.”

Bordelon wants to crush the conception that school cafeteria food is unhealthy.

“We offer a lot of healthy options. We work toward that to make sure they’re appetizing and that there’s a selection and that somebody is not left out without having an option,” she said. “The education part of it is when the kids have a full stomach they’re able to focus better. We’re just part, at the end of the day, in educating your child. We’re a piece of the puzzle if you will.”

During her tenure in food services, Bordelon has seen the industry evolve in such a drastic way as eliminating deep fryers and embracing healthy, good and student-friendly edibles.

“It’s definitely changed. There is so much more emphasis on the nutritional aspect of food services,” Bordelon said. “The choices and the selections have grown. We’ve worked toward more fresh products. We bake bread every day for sandwiches, rolls and breadsticks. The lettuce, all the produce is fresh. The salads we prepare every day.”

Even items that have long been cafeteria staples have been tweaked to be what food services considers healthy.

“It’s taking something students love like pizza and twisting it into something we can serve such as whole grain crust, low fat mozzarella cheese and enhanced marinara sauce. We tweak it to be compliant (with health standards),” explained Sheffield.

Chicken nuggets are whole-grain now, she said. “Nothing is deep fried,” Sheffield continued.

For Bordelon, the best part of her day is seeing students’ faces as they make their way through the cafeteria line.

“I enjoy dealing with the kids. They come in and we ask them, ‘How’s your day,’ we wish them good luck – my staff will say, ‘Good luck with your game,’” Bordelon shared. “It’s a hectic time but it’s a good time. (Staff) gets so excited to see kids play. Some of them are season ticket holders.”

She wants the community to know she and her staff are invested in students and community.

“We want the best for our students and for our community. We really want to work in that direction,” she said.