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Eating & exercising

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Food service workers Louisa Smithson, left, and Leah Daly, serve items such as fresh broccoli spears during lunch Wednesday at the Connersville High School cafeteria.
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Shane Russell, Connersville High School assistant athletic director, eats lunch at the CHS cafeteria on Wednesday.
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CHS senior Hannah Parrett, 16, makes a fresh fruit selection in the school cafeteria. Fresh fruits are available from trays atop the steam table.

By JEFF STANTON - jstanton@newsexaminer.com

Eating healthier and getting exercise are two ways local schools are trying to help students and staff. 

The Fayette County School Corp. started moving away from high fat and high calorie foods several years ago. The schools also introduced more fitness activities, and not just for students.

Chartwells Food Service came aboard in 2011 to assist in the transition to healthier foods.

Elementary teacher Kelly Pflum was appointed wellness coordinator by now-retired school administrator Dr. Steven Bayer. 

Pflum has a structure to develop wellness programs that are taken to the school buildings. “I have a committee of teachers, administrators, a Chartwells staff member, community members, a board member, a parent and a student. The teacher members represent specific schools and are responsible for implementing activities for students and staff that focus on physical fitness, nutrition, and mindfulness.”

The group discusses ways to motivate and engage staff and students. “We provide incentives along the way for challenges (that) schools individually implement,” she said.

Elementary cross country teams have been formed this year with the help of Connersville High School track coach Kelli House. They will be involved in the Fayette 5K sponsored in April by Fayette Regional Health System.

“All elementary schools use Go Noodle, a program where kids can dance, stretch, move around during indoor recess or for ‘brain breaks’ during the day,” Pflum said. “Maplewood is piloting Go Noodle Plus and has access to interactive standards that align with the state academic standards.”

The school corporation’s version of “The Biggest Loser” for staff is set to begin this month. It is patterned after a television series in which the winner is the person who loses the most weight after working with trainers for several weeks. 

Teachers Victoria Whitmore and Sandy Peck are organizing the local challenge. They reached out to Shane Barker, owner of Anytime Fitness, for prize packages. Healthworks supports school corporation employees with discounted memberships and classes.

Pflum works closely with Rachel O’Brien, Chartwells food services director, on providing healthy snacks to staff members at meetings.

Along with offering fresh fruits and vegetables in school meals, Chartwells worked on other dietary changes, O’Brien said. “No more soda, the cookies are under 200 calories, everything has to be under 200 calories if you’re going to sell anything a la carte.”

Peyton Keaffaber, 18, a senior at CHS, said of the food service, “It’s pretty good, honestly. The hot food varies from day to day. I eat it once or twice a week. I pack my lunch sometimes, too. I like the chicken here; it’s really good. I think it’s pretty good food for the money we spend on it.”

Chartwells uses a “smoothie bike” that travels around to the schools and provides fresh fruits and veggies so students can make smoothies. They hosted a healthy recipes cooking demonstration for staff.

Counselors and social workers at each building focus on mindfulness and stress management with the students.

Additionally, “Becky Marvel at the Purdue Extension office is one of my community links and we work with her on staying up to date with community initiatives,” Pflum said. “She educates us on the Farmers Market and community gardens. She is also partnering with us on Every Kid Healthy Week in April.”

Many of these changes were implemented during the tenure of now-retired school superintendent Russell Hodges. 

“I can tell you that we had a lot of discussion, especially with the elementary principals over the time, with concerns primarily with the sugary breakfast menu that our kids were having,” Hodges said.

“We had one board member that expressed a lot of concern over healthy eating and what we were providing our students,” he said. “That was really the impetus for us to start an investigation and see what other schools were doing and what might be good options for Fayette County School Corp.”

Hodges praised Chartwells for bringing healthier food choices to students and staff.

“I think with the resources that Chartwells has as far as menu preparation and their buying power, they’re able to do an outstanding job of providing great menus for our students, a lot of fresh fruits and fresh vegetables that we weren’t able to provide before.”

O’Brien recalls making the change to healthier food.

“At first, I think it was really hard,” she said, “because we had had a lot of fried foods, like just the basics they may get at a fast-food restaurant. It was hard at first for the kids to get adjusted, but a lot of these kids here now have been eating this way since elementary (school), so now we do see them taking more of the fruits and veggies by choice, not because they have to.”

CHS assistant athletic director Shane Russell eats in the school cafeteria daily and said, “I think they have good choices, I think the food is good; I’ve been very pleased.”