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Schools add healthy eating as key to student success

September 20, 2010|By TRISH RUDDER
  • Warm Springs Middle School students eat a lunch consisting of Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, green beans and slices of watermelon or cantaloupe recently in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.
Trish Rudder, Staff Writer

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Innovative teaching and learning techniques are important to students' success at Morgan County Schools, but providing healthful cafeteria food is a key factor as well.

Superintendent David Banks and the schools' social worker, Gary McDaniel, have designed a strategic plan for addressing Morgan County students' challenges.

Instruction is the role of the school system, but "we needed a hook" to help each student want to listen to what the teachers have to say, Banks said.

"We want them to want to go to school," he said.

This is Banks' fourth year as superintendent of Morgan County Schools, and he has been brainstorming with administrators, teachers and staff to find ways to help students learn.

"Teamwork is what gets it done," McDaniel said.

"Anything to get them interested," including adding mentoring programs, after-school programs, getting parents involved and even focusing on healthful eating is the mission, Banks said.

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McDaniel said when Banks was the school system's nutrition director, he met with county resident Dr. Bill Lands, a former professor and researcher who founded the Morgan County Forum for Arts, Sciences and Technologies (FAST).

FAST has been providing information on healthful eating, and the value of eating more Omega-3-rich foods and less Omega-6-rich foods.

"The whole point was to give him the scientific background information to apply it to Morgan County Schools and serve healthier food," Lands said of meeting with Banks.

Lands said that foods high in sugar, salt and fat often are substituted for healthier options, and everyone needs to learn the importance of eating a variety of vegetables and fruits -- about five to nine a day.

"Strive for five but nine is fine," said Lands, citing one of FAST's mottos.

Kristie Randall, director of child nutrition, has been providing healthier menus for food served in the school cafeterias, Banks said.

Federal commodities help keep school meal costs low, Banks said, but Morgan County schools have added locally grown fruits and vegetables to the menu.

Banks said when the change began about three years ago, the students balked and didn't want to eat the lower-fat, less-salty foods. Now, the students have accepted the new menu and are eating the food.

"Participation is good now," Banks said.

Banks said all eight Morgan County schools have changed their menus, and they applied and received grants to supplement the menu with healthier food choices.

The cafeteria cooks are using less soybean oil, Banks said, and Randall is working with Lands to find a source for high-oleic sunflower oil, which is low in Omega-6 fatty acids, Lands said.

Randall is considering having the cafeteria cooks make their own salad dressings, which would have less Omega-6 fatty acids, McDaniel said.

Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, a National Institutes of Health researcher, produced a study that showed that impaired academic performance, behavioral problems, depression and obesity can stem from a high Omega-6 diet, Banks said.

"This is the first time we can say 'here is the proven research.' It's sound science," McDaniel said.

Hibbeln's evidence and research shows behaviors have been improved with a diet low in Omega-6's and high in Omega-3's, Lands said.

"Nutrition is the key building block with which we build our brains and our bodies," he said, adding that a correct nutritional balance in bodies and brains improves healthful behaviors.

Hibbeln has given public lectures in Morgan County and staff-development lectures in Morgan County Schools, Lands said.

Hibbeln met not only with school administrators, but all the schools' service personnel -- bus drivers, secretaries and cooks -- because "they are woven into our community," McDaniel said.

"It's not a diet. It's healthy, smart eating for everyone," McDaniel said.

"As a former professor who taught this, the fact that it is being used in the Morgan County school system is very gratifying," Lands said.

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