My colleague Julie Mikkelson and I are back to Chicago after a road trip across Michigan, March 22-24. We were there to recognize a number of schools for their efforts to support the First Lady’s LetsMove! initiative and the HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC). Our trip began in Waterford, north of Detroit, with a HUSSC Gold award celebration. Three days, five schools, and hundreds of miles later, we ended our trip near Lansing with a HUSSC award presentation. All the schools we visited were HUSSC award winners, and everywhere we went, we saw tremendous enthusiasm and commitment to healthier students.
At Sandburg Elementary School, on March 22, we had “breakfast for lunch” with whole grain pancakes, fresh fruit/salad bar, Sun Butter (sunflower seed butter), and milk, with a side of baby carrots from the Easter Bunny. Doreen Simonds, Waterford Schools Nutrition Services dynamo, emceed a rockin’ assembly featuring the Fuel Up to Play 60 pledge with Roary (Detroit Lions’ mascot), USDA’s Power Panther, the Waterford nutrition mascot “Tracker the New-trition Train” and his “Train Gang” of singers, and the Puppeteers. Julie Mikkelson, our Midwest Region Special Nutrition Programs Director, presented Sandburg Elementary School with the second HUSSC Gold award in Michigan (and the first Gold award under the new HUSSC criteria). The assembly ended with students making like a train to the tune of “Locomotion.”
The next day, we started the day at Pierce Elementary School in Birmingham, near Detroit. Second grade teacher Robyn Tarnow had invited us to participate in a “Kid Witness News” interview about the new healthier school meals. Julie was interviewed by Clare, a tiny girl bubbling with enthusiasm. Robyn’s students learn how to be reporters by choosing a topic and conducting an interview. One student operates the videocam. After the interview, there is a “press conference” with the whole class. We were very impressed with the students’ awareness of good nutrition and their appetite for school meals. (Pierce, along with several other Birmingham schools, recently won the HUSSC Bronze award). I’m told that many famous people have appeared on Kid Witness News, including the Governor of Michigan and Al Gore! Julie’s interview will air next month on the local cable access station.
Arriving in time for lunch at Dodson Elementary School in Canton, we were treated to samples of Chef Paul Penney’s delicious turkey chili (with Michigan tart cherries) and standout sweet potatoes and apples. Chef Penney handed tasting cups to the students to encourage them to try the new foods (and many did). Chef Penney is a volunteer in the Plymouth Canton Community Schools with Chefs Move to Schools, the First Lady’s initiative to involve professional chefs in improving school meals and educating students about nutrition. After lunch, energetic principal April Quasarano emceed an all-school assembly featuring the district’s star football player, Power Panther, and Roary the Detroit Lion. Julie presented her with the HUSSC Bronze award. After the assembly, students moved into breakout sessions, with a choice between a fitness walk with Roary, Zumba, or a football toss in the gym.
We began day three bright and early, with an HUSSC award celebration at Explorer Elementary School in Williamston. There were 850 students in the gym, including the primary students from Discovery School next door. The event turned into a giant pep rally, with the high school band playing, dancing fruits and veggies and dairy characters, high school athletes sharing their nutrition tips, and everyone singing the “1-2-3-4-5-a Day” song about healthy eating. Julie presented the HUSSC Bronze award to Principal Brian DeRath. We were really impressed with the school pride and community involvement. Even the costumed fruit and veggies were hand-made by a local parent!
Wrapping up our Michigan tour, we paid a low-key visit to Okemos, outside Lansing, to present the HUSSC Bronze award for Central Elementary School. Central had qualified for the HUSSC last year but was later closed and its staff and students consolidated with another school. Although the school is no more, we were able to thank everyone and present the HUSSC plaque.
I’d like to close with a special note of thanks to our Michigan Department of Education partners who have worked tirelessly to increase the number of HUSSC schools and to the United Dairy Industry of Michigan for their support of these events. As of March 28, 17 Michigan schools have met the HUSSC. We couldn’t do it without you!