Treasa Markle sets out cups of fruits and veggies, moving quickly through the kitchen of Ebb Valley Elementary School, bouncing from one area to another.
She's pulling food out of the freezers, replenishing the teacher taco bar and then she's out in the cafeteria, passing out frozen treats to a long line of kids waiting to buy ice cream.
Markle's been at Ebb Valley for nine years and has worked in Carroll County Public Schools for 22. She started part-time as a dishwasher, then was a cook and then a manager at Cranberry Station Elementary School. From there, she helped open Ebb Valley in Manchester, serving as a manager there for the last decade.
"I certainly don't do it for the money," Markle said. "It's just rewarding that the kids interact with me and I can interact with them and be their friend."
That love for the kids, and her staff at Ebb Valley, has led the mother of two and grandmother of two more to a top award in the country.
Markle and Vicky Lafferty, a cafeteria worker at Shiloh Middle School, have been named national award winners by the nonprofit School Nutrition Association. These awards "recognize an exceptional school nutrition director, manager, and employee from among regional winners," according to a news release from the school system.
Markle earned the Manager of the Year Award.
Her day starts by getting everything set up for breakfast — something Markle says she handles on her own. She does the ordering and makes sure everything's set up as lunch rolls around and her staff comes in to help. There's ice cream to be sold, dishes to be done, food to be prepped.
But that's not the hard part for Markle, she said. The hardest part comes from seeing kids who aren't getting the food and nutrition that they should be, she said.
"There's a lot of times I take money out of my pocket just to make sure they have lunch. I just like to see them all smile," she added.
But it is tough watching the middle-schoolers progress through three years and then leave after eighth grade and move on to high school, she said.
"You kind of build up … a relationship with them," she said.
She builds them with all the kids over the years.
"They're the ones I miss the most when I leave for the summer, and that's what I look forward to when I'm coming back," Lafferty added.
Lafferty said she loves getting to spend time with the students, but she loves the cooking aspect, too. There's a lot more to it then "slinging hash," though, she said. Her knowledge of cooking and of sanitation rules from her previous jobs has helped her in her role at Shiloh Middle, she said.
And over her years at the school, she said she's learned a lot from the managers and other staff. She's picked up little things from them each year, Lafferty said, and they've helped her to be where she is now.
"There's a lot of people behind me," Lafferty said.
Lafferty said she was surprised to find out she'd won the Employee of the Year Award. She was "jumping up and down," she added.
She said she started at Shiloh in the 2006-07 school year in a three-hour position doing cashier and prep work, was promoted in 2010-11 to a four-hour position and then, in 2014-15, to a five-hour position consisting of prepping, cooking, setting up the food lines, serving students, monthly inventory, ordering menu items, checking in orders, restocking and just generally helping her manager and co-workers make things go smoothly.
She said she knew shortly after she arrived at Shiloh that she wanted to make a career out of the job and that she wanted to move up.