In Georgia’s public schools, alongside
educators helping children grow in knowledge and competency and skill, others
are pushing to ensure that they’re growing in strength and health as well.
Each day, School Nutrition staff members work
to provide students with the tools they need to live a healthy lifestyle –
which, in turn, empowers each of them to turn a nourished and focused mind
toward academics. GaDOE’s School Nutrition staff is tasked with providing
leadership, training, technical assistance and resources to the local program
personnel who are on the ground working toward that goal.
Below is a closer look at school nutrition in
two districts – Monroe County and Carrollton City. The innovation taking place
in both districts is a reminder that, while there is still work to be done,
today’s public-school students are uniquely equipped to make smart, healthy
choices, now and in the future.
In Monroe County, a push to create wellness
When you step into a public school, you
should be in a space that inspires you to make healthy decisions – an
atmosphere of energy, focused on nutrition and movement and everything else
your brain needs to function at peak efficiency.
That type of health hotspot is what Lisa
Singley is working to create in the Monroe County Public Schools.
“You hear everything about obesity, the fact
that they’re not getting as much exercise at home,” said Singley, the
district’s director of school nutrition. “Here, you have a captive audience
every day, for 175 to 180 days. We have them every day and the impact that we
can make on their health now, when we start young, will only benefit them in
Singley has worked to designate the county’s
schools as “wellness zones,” in ceremonies followed by four weeks of intense
“What that’s meant to do is promote health
and wellness throughout the school and throughout the community – because schools
are the center of a community,” she said.
That means there are daily announcements
focusing on a different aspect of nutrition or physical health each week. There
are brain-booster activities in the mornings and afternoons, giving students
the chance to participate in quick bursts – about two minutes – of exercise.
Students have designed their own breakfast,
lunch, dinner and snack menus based around healthy, fresh ingredients. Teachers
have incorporated nutrition in math instruction. Representatives from the Macon
Farmers Market have stopped in to teach students about sustainable, in-season
fruits and vegetables.
Teachers are leading by example, giving
students the chance to earn points when they “catch” a teacher making a healthy
choice – drinking a bottle of water in the hallway, for example, or digging
into a salad at lunch. In warmer weather, Superintendent Anthony Pack holds twice-weekly
“walk and talk” events – a chance for community members, teachers and parents
to share concerns while sharing some exercise, too.
Slowly but surely, all of it is changing the
culture among students.
“Oh, I don’t like tomatoes,” Singley recalls
one student saying. “Well,” she replied. “Do you put ketchup on your French
fries? Do you eat salsa?”
By the end of the conversation, the student
was convinced that she did, in fact, like tomatoes.
“Making that connection in elementary
school,” Singley said, “is just amazing.”
In 2013, Singley was recognized as a Georgia
Action for Healthy Kids Healthy Hero award winner. Monroe County’s K.B. Sutton
Elementary School has been recognized as a Georgia Best Practice for Wellness
Promotion, and Samuel Hubbard Elementary has received a Get Active, Get Fit
School Challenge Award.
More rewarding, Singley said, are the smaller
moments – the ones when a picky eater learns to love broccoli, or a high-school
student says they love the meals they’re eating at school.
“When you can teach a fifth grader about
making healthy choices and they understand that – if you can impact them then,
that sets the stage for the choices they’re going to make in the future, for
the rest of their life,” Singley said.
Community education, strong foundations in
Carrollton City Schools
Linette Dodson has seen thousands of kids
make their way through the Carrollton City Schools. For nearly 14 years, she’s
worked to make sure all of them leave a little healthier.
Lately, Dodson has focused on finding
innovative ways to reach out to the community – making sure they know that
“school food is good food,” that it’s appealing not only in taste but in
nutritional benefits as well.
“We’ve been really focused on taking our
message to the community,” Dodson said. “With all the good things we’re doing
internally, I kind of realized that folks still aren’t aware of them.”
To accomplish that, Dodson and her team have
handed out something like 3,000 samples of school foods – homemade hummus,
barbecue, and the like – at the Taste of Carrollton event. They’ve cooked up
soup for local fundraisers. In May, they’ll join the district’s community forum
to provide food samples and information about the program’s offerings.
Programs have changed in the last 14 years,
but Dodson’s focus hasn’t.
“It’s a great opportunity for us in school
nutrition to lay that foundation of teaching them what good choices are, both
with eating and with activity and how that impacts them long-term,” she said.
“Hopefully, we’re laying that foundation that will support them the rest of
In the Carrollton City Schools, students are
growing and eating fresh vegetables in school gardens. They’re eating breakfast
in the classroom, starting the day well-fed, rejuvenated and ready to learn.
They’re being exposed to new fruits and vegetables at school, going home and
asking their parents to buy blueberries or starfruit. Last year, the district’s
Seamless Summer program served 27,000 meals – in a district with an enrollment
Collectively, the district and schools within
it have received Gold Level status through the Healthier U.S. School Challenge
Awards, a 2013 Regional USDA Best Practice Award, a 2012 Georgia Best Practice
Award, 2013 and 2014 Georgia SHAPE grants, a 2013 USDA Farm to School planning
grant, a 2013 Action for Healthy Kids Summer Feeding grant, two 2014 Action for
Healthy Kids Breakfast Expansion grants, the donation of a Let’s Move salad bar
from the Atlanta Falcons, a 2013 Golden Radish award and designation as a
National Let’s Move district. In 2013, Dodson was named School Nutrition
Director of the Year by the Georgia School Nutrition Association.
The result: Nutrition blends with curriculum,
and students are positively impacted in their health and their academic ability
“The cool thing, I think, is we’re seeing a
lot of the foundation we’ve been laying for a while take hold in the district,”
Dodson said. “…School meals really are a great thing for students. We really
are trying to give them the best.”