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Adrian Elementary receives national honor

JULIE BUNTJER/DAILY GLOBE Chef Keith Nelson prepares a strawberry-banana smoothie during Friday morning's student assembly at the Adrian Elementary gymnasium as USDA mascot Power Panther looks on. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)1 / 2
Julie Mikkelson, USDA Food and Nutrition Service Regional Director of Special Nutrition Programs, presents Adrian Elementary School Principal Russ Lofthus with a plaque honoring the school for achieving silver status in the Healthier U.S. School Challenge.2 / 2

ADRIAN -- Students at Adrian Elementary kicked off their day Friday with a Rockin' Recess, dancing to the Macarena and rolling through the motions of the Chicken Dance. The event was part of day-long festivities at the school to celebrate its silver rating in the Healthier U.S. School Challenge.

During an awards presentation in the school gym Friday morning, Principal Russ Lofthus accepted two plaques in recognition of the school's achievement, as well as a $1,000 check that may be used by the school to continue to promote healthy lifestyles among students.

Adrian Elementary was just one of two Minnesota schools to receive a challenge award this year -- the second was given to a district in the Twin Cities metro area last spring. Since the initiative began six years ago, 19 Minnesota schools have been honored.

Julie Mikkelson, USDA Food and Nutrition Service Regional Director of Special Nutrition Programs, said the goal of the program is to encourage schools to offer healthier food options to students, provide ample time for physical activity and introduce nutrition education at a young age.

Initially, the program was offered only in the elementary school setting, but was recently expanded to both junior and senior high schools as well. It has gained renewed interest thanks to Michelle Obama's nationwide "Let's Move" campaign introduced a year ago, Mikkelson said.

More than 100,000 schools across the country are eligible to apply for the award and funding, although only about 850 schools have actually earned a bronze, silver, gold or gold with distinction status through the Healthier U.S. School Challenge.

"Even to get the bronze, it's a pretty high standard to meet," said Mikkelson. "You have to have plenty of dark green and orange vetetables and fruits, whole grains, plenty of physical activity and nutrition education. We also look at the level of participation. They may have all these things in place, but if half the students are bringing their lunch from home and not accepting the meal, that's not enough to get the award."

Mikkelson said schools receiving the award now are in a good position for future rule changes at the USDA regarding meal pattern expectations in the National School Lunch Program.

"This is an opportunity for schools to implement sound nutrition practices that we already know are important, but they're not required by regulation," she added.

Principal Lofthus said the school implemented the Healthier U.S. School Challenge last spring, and he'd like to see them continue to expand on the program.

"I think we're going to use this as a springboard for doing more health education," Lofthus said. Projects include looking for more ways to promote healthy eating and physical exercise.

One project the physical education teacher at the school is already working on is an exercise guide students will be able to take with them at the end of the school year and use as a program during their summer vacation.

In addition to the awards presentation, Friday's assembly included a demonstration by Chef Keith Nelson on making fruit smoothies, an appearance by USDA mascot Power Panther and a couple of songs performed by the student body. The day also included a healthy lunch and a health walk through the community.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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