By NANCY BEAN FOSTER
Union Leader Correspondent
Published in the Union Leader November 29, 2012
WEARE - By offering students healthy choices and focusing on physical education, John Stark Regional High School is the first high school in New Hampshire to have earned an award of distinction as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's HealthierUS School Challenge.
The HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) is a voluntary certification initiative established in 2004 to recognize those schools participating in the National School Lunch Program that have created healthier school environments through promotion of nutrition and physical activity, according to the USDA.
Cynthia Tackett, public affairs spokesman for the USDA's Northeast Region, said John Stark is one of only three high schools in New England and the only high school in the Granite State to have earned the HealthierUS School Challenge bronze award.
Principal Chris Mosca said the award is an affirmation of the school's good nutritional practices, and came about through the hard work of Food Services Director Morgan Trahan.
"There was a lot of paperwork involved in getting this award," said Mosca. "Morgan had to keep track of every label on every can of food that came in."
Trahan also had to coordinate with teachers to make sure that the physical education components required by the challenge were met. But Trahan said the school was ready for such recognition and was already well on its way to providing the students and the staff with nutritional meals and snack options.
"We were already doing a lot of the work, so I thought, why not take credit for it," said Trahan.
Some of the challenges of meeting the HUSSC guidelines included ensuring that there was a different type of vegetable available every day of the week, and an offering of beans or other legumes at least once a week, said Trahan. There was also the struggle to find real whole grain breads, and to do all of these things without overstretching the budget.
But the biggest challenge was removing the juices and flavored waters from the cafeteria.
"We made a profit on those products that helped our budget, but the guidelines say you can only sell milk and water," Trahan said.
Surprisingly, the pushback didn't come from the students, she said.
"The kids were great," Trahan said. "I actually got more flack from the teachers who liked the vitamin water."
But it didn't take long for everyone to get on board and support the effort because in educational circles, said Mosca, it's understood that good nutrition and strong students go hand-in-hand.
"There's an old saying that the army runs on its stomach," he said. "I think the school does too. If kids aren't eating properly, if they skimp on nutrition, they can't concentrate on their classes."
Trahan said the recognition is nice, but she's really proud of the lessons the kids are taking away from their time in the cafeteria.
"We're supposed to be teaching them how to be healthy," she said. "And we're doing that."