Schools recognized for nutrition, health programs




Several USD 457 schools have been recognized for efforts to improve nutrition and increase physical activity.

Eleven elementary schools, both intermediate centers and the early childhood center will be receiving bronze awards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Healthier U.S. School Challenge on Monday.

According to a press release from USD 457, the HUSSC is a voluntary national certification initiative for schools participating in the National School Lunch Program that recognizes schools creating healthier school environments through their promotion of good nutrition and physical activity. Sponsored by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, the initiative encourages all schools to take a leadership role in helping students make healthier eating and physical activity choices. Districts, such as USD 457, that champion the HUSSC work hard to make changes to their school nutrition environment in order to improve the quality of the foods served, provide students with nutrition education and provide students with physical education and opportunities for physical activity.

The HUSSC application process was led by Tracy Johnson, USD 457 Nutrition Services director. The district's Wellness Team, which is comprised of community members, parents, teachers, nurses and members of the Board of Education, reviewed the application.

Johnson said the schools received the award, in part, because meals being served to students meet federal regulations.

"We have at least two choices of fruit. They have a green salad and then choices to go with that, just some complement like carrots, broccoli, and they can change it up. You have to show that you're serving so many green vegetables, so many cups of orange vegetables, so many cups of beans or legumes," Johnson said.

Susana Esquivel, kitchen manager at Florence Wilson Elementary School, said that she is amazed at the way the students in K-4 have taken to eating healthy, particularly when it comes to vegetables.

"The kids are eating the lettuce more often. Before, it was just there and they wouldn't eat it, but now they tend to prefer it. A lot of them now do like it," Esquivel said, adding that providing healthy food for students seems to be changing their mindsets about food. "If they're not introduced to it when they're young, it's kind of hard."

Johnson said that four different awards — gold with distinction, gold, silver and bronze — were awarded to 40 other school districts in Kansas.

"Not only does it take into consideration the menus and what we're serving, but also the activity, how many physical education hours we have in our schools. We don't have quite enough to meet that silver level," Johnson said.

She said that because education is aimed at teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, physical education is not always a top priority, but that the Let's Move in Kansas initiative, the state's version of First Lady Michelle Obama's national Let's Move campaign, aims to change that.

"So it's basically trying to teach the teachers how to do activities with their kids, whether it's five minutes of jumping jacks (or other activities) and incorporating it into their curriculum, and just finding different ways to keep the kids active throughout the day when they're not in PE or at recess," she said.

She said that the high school and middle schools fell short of receiving an award because not every student at those schools is required to take PE courses.

As part of the district's attempt to promote fitness, it is holding its second annual 5K run at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Lee Richardson Zoo. Johnson said that there are already about 175 people, including students of all ages, teachers and parents, registered for the run.

"We have some schools kind of competing against each other, challenging each other to see who can get the most staff members (to participate)," she said.

Kansas Department of Education Child Nutrition and Wellness consultant Kelly Chanay will visit Georgia Matthews Elementary at 9:15 a.m. Monday to present the official award to the district.

"Each school will get a banner and a plaque from the USDA and we're trying to get representatives like the wellness champion, the principal and possibly a student to come and accept the award, and my managers from each school will be there," Johnson said.

Schools receiving the bronze award are Abe Hubert Elementary School, Alta Brown Elementary School, Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center, Buffalo Jones Elementary School, Charles Stones Intermediate Center, Edith Scheuerman Elementary School, Florence Wilson Elementary School, Garfield Early Childhood Center, Georgia Matthews Elementary School, Gertrude Walker Elementary School, Jennie Barker Elementary School, Jennie Wilson Elementary School, Plymell Elementary School and Victor Ornelas Elementary School.

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