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The Springfield Public School District has provided healthier food options to help its students fight childhood obesity. But what about less-populated, rural schools? Does lack of resources keep small schools from receiving the healthier options they need? KSMU’s Rebekah Clark has more.
The town of Mountain View, Missouri is home to 2,736 people—58 times smaller than Springfield. Approximately 411 of those people are children who study at Mountain View Elementary School.
The principal of the school, Loren Smith, says the school district has always valued promoting the health and wellness of its students. However, he says he has noticed some kids who struggle with obesity. He says most of those kids learn bad eating habits in their own homes—which makes it harder for teachers to motivate them to eat right at school. However, he points out that the kids who learn to eat well at home choose and even crave the healthy options at school.
“If it’s expected at the house and they learn those habits, we reinforce those here at school. There are initiatives to get more healthy choices for them, a lot of that’s in our cafeteria. We also have local wellness plans in place that limits some of the unhealthier choices as far as sugar intake during the day.”
Even with the initiatives in place, including longer, mandatory recess times for the kids, and two 50 minute physical education classes a week, Smith says the district has to be very proactive in getting these initiatives because of its size.
Misty Lee is the school nurse at Fordland Elementary School in Fordland, Missouri, a town with a population of 850 people. She says that because the school is so small, much of its resources, finances and energy are focused on academics. The small school she works for has made changes to the menu, moving to healthier food options. But Lee would eventually like to see a bigger move made by the district in the future.
“I see that we’ve put a lot more focus on the food and that’s important that we do think about that and what’s going into our body. I would like to see a lot more focus on the exercise because it is important and that they realize that that plays a part in the academic of it and their health. These children are having more and more health issues.”
Some rural communities are investing a lot of energy in bettering the nutrition of their students. Brian Wilson is the Superintendent of the Ava School District in Ava, Missouri. He says that many rural districts like the one he works in struggles to come up with creative ways to motivate kids to be healthy without spending a lot of money.
“You know, you’re trying to find those innovative ways and ways that might not be very many times are cost prohibitive to do. It takes a lot of initiative, and to be quite honest, what happens is we’re looking for other places and other avenues to partnership and collaborate with.”
The Ava School District just recently teamed up with the University of Missouri Extension to participate in a family nutritional education program. The program allows students from the college to come into the school and bring in fruits and vegetables for the kids to eat and learn about. The interactive program gives kids the opportunity to try foods they might not otherwise get to eat, and learn about a healthy lifestyle.
Wilson says he isn’t sure if other small school districts are working with the college, but he says he is an advocate for the program.
For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.