Students aren't the only ones bringing home good grades at George Washington Elementary School in Bethel Park.
The school has received a bronze award from the HealthierUS School Challenge in recognition of its excellence in nutrition and physical activity. The school received a plaque, banner and $500, and it will have the certification for the next four years.
George Washington is one of eight schools in Allegheny County and 44 in Pennsylvania to receive the award.
"I thought it was a great opportunity to show what we do. I think we do a good job providing healthy options for kids," principal Fred Pearson said.
The challenge is part of first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign and is a voluntary certification initiative that recognizes schools enrolled in Team Nutrition, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to support programs that have created healthier school environments through nutrition and physical activity.
Food service director Joe Consolmagno of Metz Culinary Management, district food service provider, spearheaded the effort with Mr. Pearson, Metz nutritionist Freda Aughenbaugh and parent Laura Hoffman.
They worked to ensure the school met the strict criteria for the award. Mr. Consolmagno said it took more than 60 hours to complete the application process alone.
To meet the criteria, Mr. Consolmagno said some minor adjustments had to be made to the menu, including offering only low-fat (1% or less) and fat-free (skim) milk. The biggest change, he said, was a switch from white enriched bread to whole grain bread.
The school already provided a dark green or orange vegetable three or more days per week, but it began offering students unlimited vegetables at the end of the lunch period.
"We do the best we can to alter the menu and to provide what we think [students] are going to accept," he said.
In addition to menu changes, the school had to meet requirements for student physical activity, including providing unstructured daily opportunities such as recess, and reinforcing the importance of physical activity by neither denying nor requiring it as a means of punishment.
The school is one of five elementaries and eight buildings in the district that Mr. Consolmagno oversees. A resident of Bethel Park for more than 25 years, he said he has a vested interest in the health of its young people.
When Metz was awarded the district contract in 2005, Mr. Consolmagno said his first order of business was to eliminate deep fryers in all buildings.
"We took a real big hit with that, especially at the high school," he said. "Those kids just loved french fries."
The decision proved to be ahead of its time because a few years later, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set new nutrition standards for food served in schools, including eliminating fried foods.
Mr. Consolmagno said he tries to be on the cutting edge. Although he doesn't have any plans to certify other schools in the district, he said he will launch a program in the fall that will incorporate the new food guidelines into the curriculum with the goal of helping students put together a menu.
Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer: email@example.com