Local schools' emphasis: Getting healthy

Metcalfe Elementary School students have school lunch Wednesday, December 12, 2012. Superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools Dr. Dan Boyd speaks to a group of children and faculty members of Metcalfe Elementary School Wednesday, December 12, 2012. Metcalfe and Rawlings Elementary schools have been recognized as winners of the Gold Award of Distinction. The Healthier US School Challenge, is a federal program that rewards the creation of a healthier school environment by improving food and beverage offerings, teaching students about nutritious food choices, being physically active, providing opportunities for physical activity, and having supportive school wellness policies.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 5:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 5:05 p.m.

Gardens, morning jogs and healthier vending machines are all part of the Alachua County school district's effort to promote healthy living, and two elementary schools have been nationally recognized for the effort.



- Metcalfe and Rawlings elementaries were recognized for creating a healthier school environment through physical activity and nutrition. They received the highest award, which comes with $2,000, as part of the federal program.

- Alachua County Public Schools have taken steps to meet new federal requirements for school nutrition. For example, only 1 percent and skim milk are offered at schools, and fresh fruit is offered every day.

- As part of an increased emphasis on physical activity, many schools in the county are running a Morning Mile program, where students jog in the morning before school.

Metcalfe and Rawlings elementary schools have been recognized as winners of the Gold Award of Distinction as part of the USDA's HealthierUS School Challenge.

According to the USDA, the program was designed to recognize excellence in nutrition and physical activity. The Gold Award of Distinction is the highest award given by the federal program, and it includes a $2,000 prize.

The standards required to apply for the certification have been adopted countywide, according to Director of Alachua County Food and Nutrition Services Maria Eunice.

She said they are part of a new set of federal guidelines that went into effect this school year.

"The criteria has now been adopted in this new set of guidelines that every school district in the country had to follow," she said.

Jen Homard, principal at Rawlings, said she has seen students taking well to the healthier options at lunch and breakfast. She has even set an example for her school by going on camera every day during morning announcements to try the fresh fruit of the day live.

"I figure they'll say, ‘If Ms. Homard is trying it, then it must be OK,' " she said.

During the last decade, Alachua County Public Schools have taken steps to create better food choices for students.

Across the district, elementary and high schools have planted gardens that provide vegetables for salads. Any student in the district can opt for a salad at lunch.

Vending machines no longer have soda. Instead, students can choose from juice, milk and bottled water. Kitchens have not featured deep fryers in years.

Eunshil McKenna, food service supervisor for the district and a registered dietitian, said the transition to new standards has been smooth because Alachua County schools have been ahead of the curve.

"It wasn't a drastic change," she said.

She said officials are working on getting four more local schools applied for the HealthierUS School Challenge.

Eunice said she was especially proud of the fact that of the 13 schools that received the highest award in Florida, two are in Alachua County.

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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