Grant Allows More Fresh Fruits and Veggies in Wyalusing Elementary Lunches
In an effort to offset an alarming national trend in childhood obesity and to make general nutrition a more palpable part of the curriculum, the Wyalusing Area School District (WASD) has successfully petitioned for a $54,250 grant that will provide fresh fruit and vegetables as afternoon snacks for all elementary school students three times per week during the 2011-12 school year.
In previous years, New Albany Elementary School has been the sole beneficiary of the state-run Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program (FFVP), based on the school’s relatively high percentage of free or reduce-priced lunches. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) was successfully petitioned for FFVP on behalf of the New Albany school again this year. With the consolidation of the four elementary schools confirmed and slated for the fall, WASD business manager Donna Repsher inquired of PDE to see if the program could be applied to all of the 793 children projected to attend the new school, and her request was granted, an effort for which she was commended at the May 9 school board meeting.
“This honor is only given to 168 schools throughout Pennsylvania,” Repsher explained. “Funding for FFVP is available through Section 19 of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act.”
According to Repsher and cafeteria manager Barb Kunkle, the school district purchases the fresh produce in advance and is later reimbursed by the state. Offerings in the past have included apples, carrots, grapes, cauliflower, cucumbers, oranges, celery, cantaloupe, tomatoes, peppers, pears, nectarines, squash, lettuce, and kiwi, most of them items that are not normally part of a school meal.
Repsher suggested that some of the items on the list might be considered routine by people who are more diet-savvy, but “the students may never have tried them at home before.”
“If both parents are working, the family eats a lot of takeout food or quick meals with no fruit,” Kunkle added. “Many of the parents are too busy to make a good dinner, and some of them have low incomes and cannot afford fresh fruit.”
By the end of the 2011-12 school year, the state will have paid approximately $70 per student through FFVP.
“We’re getting quite a bit more money than we’d get for just New Albany,” said Repsher, who noted that the state requires that the recipient schools also provide nutritional education relative to the snack. On May 20, Repsher and Kunkle participated in a webinar conducted by PDE that thoroughly explained the guidelines of implementing the program. Repsher related that the decision to serve the produce as an afternoon snack was geared to give students a nutritious boost to complete the school day.
“Natural sugars are better for them than sugars from candy,” Kunkle added, noting that school officials also hope that the healthy snacks will help the youths maintain proper weight and diet in the long run.
Both women maintain that obesity has not been a serious issue in the school district, perhaps as a result of ongoing nutritional education, attention to physical education, and the tracking in recent years of the body mass index (BMI) of students. The WASD nurses’ staff conducts BMI studies annually on children and sends a form letter home to the parents that records each child’s height, weight, and body mass index in comparison to suggested national norms. The acceptable range is wider than one might expect, and the report is not issued in a critical manner, but rather as just one gauge of a child’s overall health. The letter from the nurse suggests that the parents take the form with them to the child’s next pediatrician visit.