Schools win award for nutrition program

Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 2:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 2:27 p.m.

Two elementary schools in east Gaineville — Metcalfe and Rawlings — have earned the prestigious Gold Award of Distinction for Healthy Schools from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's HealthierUS School Challenge.

Only 12 schools in Florida and 281 schools nationwide have received the recognition, which comes with a $2,000 cash award.

The HealthierUS School Challenge is a voluntary initiative established in 2004 to recognize schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program, which has created healthier school environments through the promotion of nutrition and physical activity.

Maria Eunice, director of nutrition and food services for Alachua County Public Schools, said the Gold Award of Distinction is the highest level award in the HealthierUS School Challenge, a key component of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to raise healthier generations of kids.

"It's a very large honor and the hardest recognition to attain," said Eunice, adding that the Gold Award of Distinction recognizes schools for creating a healthier school environment by improving food and beverage offerings, teaching students the importance of making nutritious food choices and being physically active, providing opportunities for physical activity and having school wellness policies.

Steve Hortin, deputy director of school and family nutrition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, presented the awards to both schools at a recent celebration at Metcalfe.

Pat Phillips, principal at Metcalfe, said the entire school — staff, teachers, physical education coaches, food service personnel, and students — worked together to earn "this great honor."

"It was a team effort," Phillips said. "We couldn't have accomplished it without everyone's help. I'm very proud."

Jen Homard, principal at Rawlings, also said receiving the award was a team effort.

"I am extremely proud of our cafeteria staff, teachers and students for embracing the fresh fruits and vegetables program over the last year," said Homard, adding that the program not only provides the nourishment students need on a daily basis to perform their best, but it is also used as an educational tool, allowing for students to learn about many different types of fruits and vegetables and to try some foods that maybe they haven't been exposed to previously.

Homard said the monetary award will be used to further promote a healthy lifestyle through a nutritious diet and plenty of exercise.

Eunshil McKenna, food service supervisor for Alachua County Public Schools, said it takes the entire school working together to make sure all HealthierUS School Challenge guidelines are met when it comes to nutrition and physical activity.

In addition, McKenna said there were food demonstrations by guest chefs and cafeteria managers and programs for parents and students, including an activity where students and parents created healthy pizzas and participated in a Zumba demonstration while the pizzas were being cooked. McKenna said the HealthierUS School Challenge guidelines are very similar to the nutrition guidelines implemented this fall by the Alachua County school district.

McKenna said an $8,000 HealthierUS grant provided the funding for the three-year challenge at both schools. She said the students have made the connection that healthy eating and physical activity will make a difference in their lives.

"The kids are seeing the connection that healthy foods and physical activity equal a healthy lifestyle," McKenna said. "Learning at a young age about the importance of nutrition and physical activity becomes internalized and part of their lives."

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