CCPS receives national school health award
— Sixteen county schools have received a national award for promoting healthy food and physical activity.
The schools received a bronze level award as part of HealthierUS School Challenge: Smarter Lunchroom, a voluntary national certification initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. The initiative supports First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, which encourages students to live active and healthy lifestyles.
All Cecil County Public Schools elementary schools received the award with the exception of Perryville Elementary School, which just re-opened a few weeks ago after undergoing nearly two years of renovations.
Cecil County is the ninth school system in the state to receive this recognition, which comes with a plaque, a banner and a monetary award of $500 per school, or about $8,000.
“I’m very excited,” said Scott Heckert, CCPS supervisor of food and nutrition services. “We did a lot of work last school year to get ourselves through this application process.”
In addition to the Food and Nutrition department staff, Heckert also gave credit to former department supervisor Cathy Thomas, who retired from CCPS in June after 40 years and put a lot of work into the application process last school year.
That work primarily involved three components: making sure CCPS was in compliance with all USDA lunch and breakfast requirements, creating educational materials about healthy food and working with schools to make sure they had the necessary amount of physical activity each week to meet the award requirements, Heckert said.
CCPS was already in compliance with USDA requirements, even before it began applying for the award, but it’s something a lot of other school systems across the state and country struggle with, Heckert said.
“We pride ourselves on staying ahead of the curve and working hard to (achieve the requirements), not because we have to but because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
As part of its application for the award, Food and Nutrition did create some additional educational materials to be displayed in school lunchrooms. These included posters featuring characters such as “Super Tomato” and “Captain Carrot,” Heckert said.
“Things like that educate kids but make it fun too,” he said.
But when it comes to getting kids to eat the healthy food, much of that depends on trial and error, Heckert said. Food and Nutrition pays close attention to what kids like and are eating, and cafeteria staff also frequently offer students the opportunity to taste test the food on the menu. Sometimes, Heckert noted, students don’t know whether they like a certain food until they try it.
Breakfast is another important part of healthy eating and CCPS offers the Maryland Meals for Achievement free breakfast program in 11 of its elementary school. At the schools without the breakfast program, CCPS offers grab and go breakfast options for students, Heckert said.
For the award, Food and Nutrition also worked with the individual schools to make sure their students had at least 45 minutes of physical activity a week — a requirement to earn the bronze recognition. Between gym class and the integrated arts programs at the schools, CCPS already exceeds that requirement, Heckert said.
CCPS now has the bronze award recognition for the next four years, giving the school system time to work toward the next levels of recognition: silver, gold and finally, gold premium. Heckert also hopes to get bronze recognition for Perryville Elementary now that the school has re-opened.
“We want to continue with the program and keep going up,” he said.