Roxann DuBois seeks out what is best for children in the district

By Jeff Smith

Hill City Food Service Director Roxann DuBois, far right, with her team of Emma Novotny, far left, and Maria Munoz, center, on May 10. DuBois was just awarded the School Food Manager of the Year for South Dakota.

Roxann DuBois, food service director for the Hill City school district, was just awarded the School Food Manager of the Year for South Dakota through the School Nutrition Association. Superintendent Mike Hanson nominated DuBois for the award.

“I’m just super humbled. I really am,” DuBois said.

DuBois wears the title of lunch lady with pride. Food service professional is the more polite term but she likes lunch lady.

“I take that very seriously. I can see when students are upset. I can see when students are having a really good day. I love to hear from updates from every single one of our students,” DuBois said.

Anyone who has kept up with the Hill City School District news knows it has been a challenging year for everyone involved. DuBois said the award is a really nice way to end the school year. It’s a positive note in a year of tightening budgets and uncertainty for the future.

DuBois loves her position and feeding children.

“I really try to broaden the horizons, and with challenges come opportunities,” DuBois said.

This year with the declining enrollment she was able to look at grants and different ways to serve meals.

She expanded the breakfast program this year. Breakfast has been available for $1 for all grades the second half of the school year.

“Breakfast has been amazing,” DuBois said.

The breakfast program brings students together to have breakfast. Child and Adult Nutrition Services came to Hill City to observe Breakfast in the Classroom at the elementary school earlier this year.

“They want to look at modeling what we have done with breakfast in the classroom to be a model for throughout South Dakota,” DuBois said.

DuBois will be giving a presentation later this year about breakfast expansion programs.

This is her third year in the management role for food service. Overall, she has worked for the food service department in some capacity for five years.

There is a sad side to how DuBois decided to join the food service staff. A lot of people already know about the DuBois’ tragedy about her daughter’s suicide.

Abby DuBois  was in seventh grade at Hill City when she died. Roxann needed to see her children throughout the day for her own mental health after that happened.

“I needed to be close to them,” DuBois said.

DuBois’ husband encouraged her to take a part-time position in the cafeteria. She realized very quickly there was a lot to do to meet the needs of the students in the district.

She continued her progression in the school cafeteria and then became a full-time employee.

“I took classes and I understood more what it means for children to be food insecure which means they don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” DuBois said.

DuBois understands what that looks like because she grew up receiving free meals. Her family didn’t have the income to pay for meals at the school. DuBois remembers going to another line with a big red stamp on her hand for lunch.

She now knows how important it is to have kindness and change the dynamic of the kitchen.

In her classes she took on school food service she learned that cafeterias might be the only place that a child isn’t bullied, children are not expected to sit still in a cafeteria and there is no homework that is done in the cafeteria.

“We just want to serve their most basic need, which is hunger,” DubBois said.

DuBois said she is fortunate that the school board and administration support what she is doing. That is not always just going along with whatever she wants but it is also asking questions and challenging DuBois on what she wants to do.

According to DuBois, of the schools in South Dakota, 70 percent of them are smaller ones like in Hill City. There are some students in rural schools that she feels are underrepresented. 

DuBois will also become the president of the School Nutrition Association of South Dakota. She hopes to change how rural schools are looked at by those in the federal or state level.

She is also on a task force that is trying to keep children from getting their lunch taken away.

Her focus as president is also going to be on inclusion and anti-lunch shaming.

This year she was blessed to attend the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools conference. Through this she learned more about the school district’s funding.

She was also able to go to a legislative action conference with the School Nutrition Association.

“That gave a lot more insight into nutrition funding,” DuBois said.

“I want to be be very vocal, especially for smaller schools that sometimes get left out of the conversation.”

DuBois wants to empower others to speak up for children.

She has noticed that a lot of middle school students will come to the cafeteria early in the morning just to hang out.

“That has been exciting because then the breakfast consumption increases,” DuBois said.

Sometimes students have a bad day and she wants to be there for them either through inspirational messages on the kitchen walls or through what she says to them.

A bunch of posters are going to be purchased for next school year.

“When we come back in the fall that cafeteria is going to be the most popular cafeteria you’ve ever seen,” DuBois said.

She and her husband don’t have any children of their own but have six adopted children. Now, she considers the 450 children she feeds every day part of her family.

“I truly want the best for them and want them to succeed,” DuBois said.

The Hill City School District is also doing the summer feeding program for the sixth year in a row. The Hill City School District will be serving breakfast and lunch.

Anybody age 1-18 can get the meal for free from June 4- Aug. 2. It will be available Monday to Thursday in the school cafeteria.

“It is definitely near and dear to my heart. It is one of the first projects I took on,” DuBois said.

Usually there are around 100 children fed every day of the program.

DuBois said it is a huge relief for families in the area who have to worry about feeding children breakfast, lunch and dinner once school is over.

“If breakfast and lunch is taken care of hopefully the grocery bills won’t be so high,” DuBois said.

In Hill City, a lot of families are also trying to make the most money that they can during the summer months.

Karen McKee’s kindergarten class sent her a postcard that is congratulatory.

“I get random texts of people congratulating me,” DuBois said.

“It’s a big deal. I feel really honored and it is great to be honored as a small school.”

DuBois feels blessed and that she is right at home where she is.