Watkins recognized for raising health standards

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 30, 2011



LAPLACE – The eating habits of faculty, staff and students at Emily C. Watkins Elementary School in LaPlace were cause for celebration Friday afternoon as the school received the HealthierUS School Challenge gold award from U.S. Department of Agriculture representatives.

The award, which is a voluntary initiative, is bestowed on schools in the USDA’s National School Lunch Program that have created a healthier school environment by promoting nutrition and physical activity.

“It is essentially given to schools that go above and beyond when it comes to offering healthier food options and more organized activity,” said USDA Nutritionalist Sheldon Gordon. “Watkins chose to offer more whole grains, including brown rice, whole wheat buns and pizza crusts, along with more green vegetables.”

Gordon said improving child nutrition has been a focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law by President Barak Obama late last year. He said the new legislation allows the USDA to make real reforms to school lunch and breakfast programs, which serve more than 32 million children daily.

“Watkins implemented the changes last year, and now they are being awarded for it,” Gordon said. “The school will hold the gold certification for four years, and then they will have to reapply.”

Ellen Carlisle, USDA southwest region section chief of special nutrition programs for food and nutrition service, said that since the HealthierUS School Challenge’s inception in 2004, just 1,139 out of the 96,000 schools in the National School Lunch Program have won the gold award. Emily C. Watkins is now one of 49 other schools in Louisiana to win the award.

“This is just the beginning for us in this district,” said St. John the Baptist Parish Schools Superintendent Courtney Millet. “We need to continue to eat healthy and keep making good decisions when it comes to staying active.”

Prior to the award presentation Friday, kindergarteners and first graders – along with the help of physical education teacher Erin Remondet – showed off their dancing skills to a medley of songs in an effort to show off the physical component of the gold award. Cafeteria workers at the school also talked about how the students have embraced the healthier options being served to them everyday.

“Our students documented their eating habits and really stayed committed to eating right,” said Principal Antoinette Robinet. “We also incorporated extra nutrition education into the school curriculum. I think there was some reluctance to the new foods at first, but they have really adjusted very well.”

Gordon said schools that win the gold award also receive a $1,500 grant to be used for food service at the school.