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Five Hall schools on list of Americas healthiest
Students, staff play critical role efforts for better nutrition, exercise
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Whole grain Pop-Tarts are one of the many healthier options on the shelves of the school store Friday at Johnson High School. The Health Committee at Johnson has moved to promote more healthy options at the school, including reduced-fat chips, granola bars, whole grain items and more. - photo by Erin O. Smith

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s 2016 list of America’s Healthiest Schools featured five schools from Hall County out of the 328 nationally honored schools.

The Southern Regional Celebration honored the five schools Nov. 4 for their efforts providing healthy options for students, availability of nutritious foods and access to quality physical education opportunities. All five schools — East Hall Middle School, Johnson High School, Lanier Elementary School, Martin Technology Academy and South Hall Middle School — were bronze-level winners.

Two students from Johnson High School were specially recognized by their school as champions of health. Molly Hayes and Max Calderon are part of the school’s Health Club, which has an influx of eight to nine members made of students, faculty, staff and even a parent.

“I don’t think everyone knows about the award,” Calderon said.

While that may be true, Hayes is still proud of their achievement.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” she said. “We’re just so used to having a school that has good programs.”

In the past year and a half, the two have been instrumental in getting health programs and making changes to the high school’s vending machine options, among other things.

Among their main duties is recruiting people for their club and inspiring people to be healthy in unique ways. Both Calderon and Hayes are a part of the school’s mountain biking club, which they got approved. They also participated in and coordinated a kickball tournament.

They also have another project in the works.

“We are trying to raise money for a salad bar,” Hayes said. “We’re just trying to get more options.”

She said the school sometimes has problems with running out of food when the third group of students comes in for lunch.

They also to have a setup for sandwiches and soups that are made at the school, rather than prepackaged versions.

Daniel Johnson, health consultant for the school, helps out with the funding side and signing the necessary paperwork on behalf of the students. He tries to fundraise without offering students sugary treats like doughnuts, which is a common method.

“Instead of that, we like to offer things that will get them moving,” Johnson said.

The school has also recently revamped what they offer in vending machines.

“It’s a work in progress,” Johnson said.

Johnson also said the goal is to have everything in the machines, of which the school has five, within the USDA’s guidelines.

“Before, the machines were really their own thing,” he said. “We want grown, not made, ingredients.”

Now, there are more healthy options, including reduced-fat chips and granola bars. The first ingredient, Johnson said, is whole wheat, a fruit or a nut. Hayes said she doesn’t often eat from the machines, but what she has eaten has been tasty and not “cardboard-ish.”

The school store, which is run by teacher Cree Aiken, also follows these guidelines. Items in the store are also cheaper than they are in the machines, which makes them a hot-ticket item. They’ve also gotten help from Hall County’s school nutritionist Trae Cowe.

“He does an amazing job,” Johnson said. “He keeps all the schools accountable.”

Cowe does this by making sure the schools are equal in their options and that one school isn’t going to be drastically different than another. Johnson said some foods may be higher in calories than foods at elementary or middle schools, but the caliber is the same.

Another idea they’re working on is making sure students don’t have to rush to eat.

“We want to cut down on the wait time for kids in the lunch line,” Johnson said. It’s also a goal of theirs to have fresh foods available, perhaps even from a garden. Hayes floated the idea that the garden could be behind the school’s cafeteria, where there is a flat area that isn’t being used. Calderon said it could be cheaper for the school, too.

Johnson also said he hopes to incorporate more standing time through the day. For every 50 minutes a student is sitting, they should have 10 minutes to stand.

These ideas came to them during a brainstorming session.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job,” Hayes said.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation, empowers kids to develop lifelong, healthy habits, by ensuring the environments that surround them provide and promote good health, according to their website www.healthiergeneration.org.

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