South MS schools win health challenge awards

JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - Two South Mississippi schools have received awards for promoting healthy eating.

Magnolia Junior High School in Moss Point and George County's Rocky Creek Elementary School, along with 17 other schools in Mississippi, were honored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) HealthierUS School Challenge.

In February 2010, when the HealthierUS School Challenge became part of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, USDA set an ambitious goal of 1250 schools nationwide by June 2011.

"We are very proud that so many of our schools have achieved excellence in both nutrition and physical activity," says Shane McNeill, Director, Office of Healthy Schools, Mississippi Department of Education "Nineteen schools from sixteen different districts have already received Gold, Silver, or Bronze awards and twenty-five additional schools currently have applications in the review process. This is a prestigious honor, since only 790 schools in 32 states have met the national criteria thus far."

According to registered dietician Amy Olson, MS, RD, Director of Training for Child Nutrition Programs in the Office of Healthy Schools, qualifying for a HealthierUS School Challenge award shows a strong commitment to serve healthful food in the cafeteria and throughout the campus, while enhancing the role of both nutrition and physical education in the classroom.

"These awards demonstrate that our schools have made sustainable changes to ensure that Mississippi students are fit, well-nourished, and ready to succeed academically. Submitting one of these applications requires a team of administrators, physical education (PE) teachers, child nutrition staff, and others involved in school wellness," notes Olson. "It's a great way to get everyone on board to promote the connections between overall children's health and their academic success."

Mississippi Award Winners (as of August 2010)

Hinds County School District
Byram Middle School (Gold)

Grenada School District
Grenada Upper Elementary School (Gold)

Petal School District
Petal Upper Elementary School (Bronze)

Moss Point School District
Magnolia Junior High School (Silver)

New Albany School District
New Albany Elementary School (Silver)

Lauderdale County School District
Northeast Elementary School (Silver)

West Bolivar School District
West Bolivar Elementary school (Bronze)

Hollandale School District
Sanders Elementary school (Bronze)

Yazoo City School District
Webster Street Elementary (Bronze)

South Pike School District
Magnolia Elementary School (Bronze)

Coahoma County School District
Jonestown Elementary School (Bronze)
Friars Point Elementary School (Bronze)

Sunflower County School District
Ruleville Central Elementary School (Bronze)

George County School District
Rocky Creek Elementary School (Bronze)

South Panola School District
Pope Elementary/Jr. High School (Bronze)

Corinth School District
West Corinth Elementary School (Gold)
East Corinth Elementary School (Gold)
South Elementary School (Gold)

Starkville School District
Sudduth Elementary School (Silver)

In recognizing Mississippi schools for achieving gold level status, USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said, "The HealthierUS School gold award is one of the highest honors a school nutrition program can achieve and reflects a strong commitment to provide students with additional healthy food options throughout the school campus, and to emphasize nutrition education and physical activity in the school curriculum. This school has set a high standard of excellence for others to follow. I'm thankful to all who helped make these achievements possible - they are making a positive difference in the lives of our nation's children."

Thanks to a bill passed last spring in the state Legislature, Mississippi schools also receive a significant financial boost for winning a HealthierUS School Challenge award. With a combination of USDA and state funding from House Bill 1078, incentives for the four exceptional performance awards are $2,000 for Bronze, $4,000 for Silver, $6,000 for Gold, and $8,000 Gold of Distinction.

"These incentives are a positive way to recognize Mississippi schools that implement programs to help improve eating habits, increase activity levels, and reduce childhood obesity," explains Shane McNeill.

"Schools can then use the additional funding to make further enhancements in nutrition and physical activity programs for their students, such as purchasing needed equipment for physical education activities or for salad bars in the cafeteria."

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