Going for the gold: Healthy changes lead small district to big honor
Kelliher School District is the first and only district in the U.S. to win the Gold Award of Distinction under new, harder-to-achieve criteria in the 2015 U.S. Department of Agriculture's HealthierUS School Challenge: Smarter Lunchrooms competition, which recognizes districts that successfully incorporate nutrition and physical activity into their curriculum.
That's a big honor for a small northern Minnesota school district of about 250 students. The recognition in 2015 grew in part out of the district’s participation in SHIP, which works to improve healthier eating and physical activity opportunities in Minnesota's schools, among other settings.
“Kelliher has been involved with SHIP since it started,” said Josh Larson, a staff member with North Country Health Alliance, the SHIP grantee for Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard and Lake of the Woods counties. “That early involvement helped them start programs that helped them get the award.”
Many of those initiatives are now a normal part of the Kelliher school day, and SHIP continues to help the district improve students’ lives.
Recognizing the value of SHIP
“We immediately recognized the value and worth of what SHIP was offering,” said Tim Lutz, Kelliher School District superintendent. “As a rural school with a high poverty level, we were very cognizant of the needs of our students to learn about healthy eating, physical activity and social/emotional well-being.”
Kelliher efforts include “Grab and Go” breakfast, a fruit and vegetable bar, a school–based agriculture project, Farm to School activities, increased physical education and after-school programs.
The HealthierUS Schools Challenge, started in 2008, recognizes schools that have made changes like those supported through SHIP. In 2014 the USDA incorporated new criteria for the challenge, including Smarter Lunchroom components. The Gold Award of Distinction was awarded to 319 schools before 2014, but Kelliher is the only district honored since the changes.
The Smarter Lunchroom movement applies practical, research-based principles and strategies that encourage kids to make healthier choices and decrease plate waste. They include structuring lunch lines so heathier food options are easier to access, having cafeteria staff encourage better choices, and giving healthier foods creative, more appealing names. The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) provides training for school nutrition professionals on the topic of Smarter Lunchrooms as part of the USDA Team Nutrition grant. As a result, school districts across the state have applied numerous Smarter Lunchroom techniques in their school cafeterias.
We immediately recognized the value and worth of what SHIP was offering. - Tim Lutz, Kelliher School District superintendent
Changes are possible ‘in any school district anywhere’
Those changes encouraged improved school nutrition, physical activity, and a more productive and fun school day. The USDA took those factors into consideration for the award.
“For our small district, this recognition is a validation of all that we try to do to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for students and staff,” Lutz said. “We believe that this honor is a strong testimonial that if a district as small as Kelliher can achieve positive changes, then it is possible in any school district anywhere.”