California honors Kernville schools
Kernville Union School District (KUSD) was one of only five districts in the entire state to be honored with the first annual “Superintendent’s Challenge Award” of $2,500 at ceremonies held June 4 on the campus of Evergreen High School in San Jose. Kernville Superintendent Mary Barlow received the award from California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. KUSD was recognized for developing “innovative nutrition and fitness programs in California schools.”
The Challenge is a coordinated effort of the California Department of Education, the California Task Force on Youth and Workplace Wellness and Stonyfield Farm. The aim is to encourage schools districts across California to improve the health of their students through policies that promote healthy eating and regular physical activity and ensure quality instructional programs in these topics without increasing their budgets. Other districts receiving the award were Alisal Union, Ukiah Unified, San Francisco Unified and East Side Union High School.
Kernville’s program, “Start Healthy, Stay Healthy,” began five years ago with funding from the California Nutrition Network and promotes healthy lifestyles through the education of students, parents and community. A majority of the students in the district receive free or reduced price meals in an area where 56 percent of the population is at or below the poverty level with a median annual income of $22,295.
With the passage of California Senate Bill 19 in 2001, state funds were made available for schools that would take part in the Link Education and Food Pilot Project to “implement the nutritional standards for all foods and beverages sold outside the federal meal program.” Kernville did and made changes at its school sites. Snacks adhered to SB 19’s standards of reduced fats, saturated fats and sugars. The only beverages sold to students are milk, water or juices that are at least 50 percent fruit juices with no added sweeteners.
“We have discovered some pretty amazing things,” Barlow said. “We got rid of the soda machines and more students started drinking water and liking it. Our snack bars no longer carry candy bars. Instead students choose from hard boiled eggs, yogurt, cheese sticks and fruit, and they like the choices. We used some of the grant money to put salad bars in our cafeterias which made them a little costlier to operate but the cost was offset because more students started eating in the cafeteria.”
Not all the changes were physical ones. Educating students, staff and parents about the benefits of a nutritional lifestyle became a priority. A Child Nutrition and Physical Activity Advisory Committee was formed. The focus in physical education programs shifted from competitive sports to fitness. A school garden was required at each school site to be used for nutritional education.
Eating habit surveys, conducted by the district, show 30 percent more students are eating a green salad at least once a day. Ten percent eat less fast foods. Fourteen percent more students engage in strenuous physical activities, four-to-five days a-week, during P.E. classes. The number of middle school students who passed the President’s Physical Fitness standards increased from four in 2001, to 28 in 2002 and 37 in 2003.
“Our test scores are going up, and I know nutrition is a part of the puzzle,” Barlow said.