What’s best – open campus, or closed? | VailDaily.com

What’s best – open campus, or closed?

Due to a recent change in policy, only seniors are allowed to wander off campus during the 30-minute lunch periods – and if they are late to their classes after lunch, they lose the privilege. In the past, however, all students were allowed to leave campus for lunch. Last year, students from Battle Mountain High School approached Assistant Superintendent John Brendza about the changes. Those students were upset with the “closed campus” philosophy. Their arguments were heard, but the new policies remain in full force. Eagle Valley senior Everett Minett says it was nice as an underclassman to be be able to each lunch elsewhere. “(But) with open campus, there were too many disruptions in class after lunch because of late students,” he says. Eagle Valley senior Steve Serba says he believes high school students are responsible enough to effectively utilize the open campus privilege; but he agrees with Minett that with a closed campus, “you are less likely to ditch after lunch and you make it to class on time.” “As a parent, it’s safer and it keeps kids at school – where they should be,” says one Battle Mountain parent. Parent and Eagle Valley teacher John Ramunno says he agrees. “I used to cringe when I saw kids leaving the parking lot for lunch,” he says. “It’s more work for staff members now – but well worth it. It’s a safer environment for kids.” At Battle Mountain, the staff has opened the gyms and the library during the lunch periods so that kids who are finished eating have something to do with their extra time. Gail Eaton, head secretary at Eagle Valley, says having a closed campus is a big improvement. But some students disagree. “Open campus gives students options of where to eat and makes students manage their time so they can be back to school before class starts,” says Senior Danielle King. “I liked the open campus”. “Open campus teaches responsibility to students who are getting ready for the real world or college,” adds a fellow senior, Dan Rivera. “But I think closed campus could be good for underclassmen.” If you have questions or comments about this policy – or any policy – call Battle Mountain High School at 328-2930 or Eagle Valley High School at 328-8960.

Eagle County parents can watch what their kids buy for lunch

EAGLE COUNTY — Learning what your kids bought for lunch is now as easy as a mouse click. Local families can go online to sign up for free and reduced lunches, the school district announced. As part of that, parents can set up email alerts that will tell you when your beloved little blessings from above are spending your hard-earned money on junk food and eating low balanced meals. You can also view your kids' meal purchases and set daily and weekly spending limits. You can do all this by going to the school district's website, http://www.eagle schools.net, and clicking on the "Lunch Menu" tab on the left side of your screen. Then click on the "MyLunchMoney" tab. The new "Heartlandapps" tab is also found under the Lunch Menu page, and in one click starts the free and reduced lunch application process. "Adding the functionality of the online application for free and reduced meals expedites the process and provides the students with the food they need faster," said Jason Glass, superintendent of Eagle County schools. "This is a very important support service for our kids. We don't want anyone in our district to go hungry." Besides keeping up with what your kids are eating, you can add money to their account. Transactions are protected by SSL encryption and are certified by VeriSign, Glass said. During registration, schools will make computers available for people who want to sign up for the program. Who's eligible? To be eligible for reduced lunches, families' incomes need to fall below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. That's $43,567.50 annual income for a family of four. That's almost half the families in the Eagle County school district. "In Eagle County, 45 percent of our student population qualifies for this program. In three of our schools, over 70 percent of the students qualify," said Dan Dougherty, the school district's communications director. Several area foundations provide breakfast for many of those same students, bolstering their nutrition and ability to concentrate on learning, Dougherty said. The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program in more than 100,000 public and nonprofit schools. In 2011, it provided 31 million children with free or low cost lunches and snacks, according to government data. Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Vail elementary school piano students showcase success

VAIL – Gone are the days of swapping out cookies for carrots in student’s lunchboxes. Instead, many students are swapping out their lunch recess for a chance to take an extra music class. Students at Red Sandstone Elementary voluntarily gave up their lunch recess for the last eight weeks to participate in piano classes led by local piano master Tony Gulizia. “Cool Keyboarding with Master Tony G,” the brainchild of Red Sandstone Elementary music teacher Nancy Sandberg, gives students the opportunity play piano within the school setting. “I wanted my music students to have a band like experience while learning from an experienced performer,” Sandberg said. “Kids love being able to create music.” The piano students recently showcased their abilities at a recital during an all-school assembly. Teachers, parents and the peers of the piano students heard firsthand about the success of the program. Gulizia said the students were “pumped” for the assembly and they thought it was the greatest thing to be able to show the other students what they’ve learned. The program was initially funded through a grant from the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, then private funding and now the school’s PTA supports it. The piano classes are free for students. “Without the continued support still of Bravo, the program would not be successful,” Sandberg said. The program began in 2009 with eight pianos serving 16 kids per group. “Now we have 16 pianos thanks to Bravo and the PTA,” said Sandberg. The in-school program is divided into beginning and advanced classes and taught during the lunch hour – the piano class is the student’s recess. Students meet once a week during the eight-week session. There are 17 students in the beginning group, 14 in the advance. The beginners have never had exposure to the piano before. Sandberg notes that the success rate is very high and her younger students can’t wait to participate. Gulizia and Sandberg both believe that piano instruction is important for elementary students and wish it was done more in the classroom setting because much of music instruction boils back to the piano. “I do this program because I love introducing kids to the wonderful world of music,” Gulizia said. “I love being with those kids and they become a wonderful part of my series. They enjoy it and I enjoy it. It is just great.” The students realized on their own that they had to relinquish their 40-minute lunch break to do this class, said Gulizia. They eat their lunch in five minutes, and then the rest of the time is spent learning the piano. “They just snarf down their food,” Gulizia said. “It shows their dedication.” Sandberg said the Guliza is a great role model for the kids. “The kids absolutely love Tony,” Sandberg said. “He is funny, compassionate and has an amazing love for music.” The success at Red Sandstone inspired the Bravo Music Festival to initiate affordable piano classes throughout the valley, said Bravo’s director of education Liz Campbell. Gulizia said the biggest accomplishment of the program was the concert held on Friday, when the teachers, students and parents all saw what the students have learned in the classes. “Kids love playing the piano, kids love music and kids need the arts,” Sandberg said. Embarking on its 25th season, the Bravo! Music Festival will feature the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The New York Philharmonic, and Big Music For Little Bands June 25 – Aug. 4, 2012. For more information visit http://www.vailmusic.org or call 970-827-5700.

No more lunch at Glenwood High?

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Despite a nice new kitchen at Glenwood Springs High School, too few students are lining up at the lunch counter to justify keeping the school’s food service program. Some options are being considered, and a final decision won’t be made until sometime in April. But as it stands, the numbers aren’t adding up to keep the hot lunch program going, Roaring Fork School District Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Shannon Pelland said at Wednesday’s school board meeting. “It’s just too hard to keep students at the school during lunch with so many other options close by,” she said. The school has an open campus policy, which allows students to leave school during lunch as long as they are back in time for the afternoon bell. Only about 75 students a day are taking advantage of the school’s hot lunch program, she said. The rest are either leaving campus, or they are bringing their own lunch to school. “Even with staffing cuts, we would be looking at a $20,000 loss,” Pelland said. The other high schools in the district that have food service, Roaring Fork High in Carbondale and Basalt High School, have greater participation, though they still just break even or require a small subsidy, she said. And, even though both of the upvalley schools have open campus policies, both school buildings are in more remote locations and nearby dining options are limited. “It’s hard for the kids, especially the younger students, to get anywhere,” Pelland said of Roaring Fork and Basalt. “But in Glenwood, within three blocks there are probably 15 options, and they don’t want to stay at school.” Pelland said Glenwood could continue to offer some a la carte options at the school. Other alternatives may also be assessed, she said. Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said she has also spoken with Glenwood High Principal Paul Freeman about possibly using the kitchen for a culinary arts program as an elective class at Glenwood. “That may be a way to get the kids in the kitchen making things that they could sell to other students,” she said. jstroud@postindependent.com

Summertime is more fun for children when they are fed

AVON — The easiest thing you can do for hungry kids is feed them, Sara Amberg said patiently. And with that unassailable logic, the 2016 summer lunch program provided by InteGreat!, a collaboration of 30 local nonprofits and agencies, started Monday. In last year's inaugural launch, two kids showed up for opening day in Gypsum. This year they ran about 100 times that, just at Eagle Valley High School. Programs are also being run at Avon Elementary School and Berry Creek Middle School. The program is part of the Eagle County Health Improvement Plan for 2017. "This helps us get through the summer and lets people know we have each others' backs," Amberg said. Summer lunch is expanding to serve any child up to 18 years old. Adults can also have lunch and are asked for a small donation, whatever you can afford up to $4. Stealth Health Jennifer Gonzalez, 9, was among the lunch bunch at Eagle Valley High School. The healthy food was OK and the cheeseburgers were good, but not as good as her mom's, she said. Your powers of observation don't have to be all that stellar to notice younger kids munching carrot sticks and fruit, while high school kids had to be sent back to balance out their cheeseburgers and fries with some fruits and vegetables. The meals are all made from scratch as part of the school district's Fresh Approach program and include fresh milk, fruits and vegetables, hamburgers with whole wheat buns. The rest of this week is spaghetti, grilled chicken breasts and homemade whole wheat pizza. Stealth health is exactly what it sounds like. In preparing meals, cooks in the school district kitchens sneak healthy stuff in, like vegetables into the pasta sauce. Jack Wickum graduated Battle Mountain High School in 2015, and this is one of his summer jobs. He just finished his first year at the University of Denver and wants to be a teacher. He is dressed for success in a T-shirt emblazoned with "Feed America." A crew of Americorps VISTA volunteers are also helping run the program. Summer is expensive Summer is expensive for families and can be isolating for some, said Melisa Rewold-Thuon, director of the Vail Valley Foundation's YouthPower365. "This is a great opportunity for kids and their caregivers to get together with others from their area for a healthy lunch and to participate in some fun kid-centered activities." InteGreat! launched its summer lunch program in 2015. During last year's pilot, 7,703 meals were served at school sites, feeding an estimated 715 children, who received a fresh, hot meal each day with the assistance of 102 volunteers and 22 organizations. "InteGreat! is not just one person. It's a movement," Amberg said. Rewold-Thuon said more than 600 students in YouthPower365 summer programs will participate in the summer lunch program each day. In three of five elementary schools in Eagle County, more than 61 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, the threshold for students being considered "at-risk." "Summer should be a fun and enriching time for our kids," said Jason Glass, superintendent of Eagle County Schools. "But for many, it represents a time when children are at the greatest risk of hunger, losing access to school meals and other support systems we have in place at our schools during the rest of the year. For the second year InteGreat! has provided this valuable Summer Lunch program which benefits the entire community." The Food Bank of the Rockies is helping run the neighborhood programs, reaching kids in pockets that don't really have any way to get anywhere. The county's ECO Transit is running buses for the program. Along with food, Starting Hearts will do a CPR class and fire trucks will show up occasionally. The Literacy Project is providing books to kids to read for the summer. Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Vail Daily column: Reaching out to our kids

Fifteen thousand meals. Let that number sink in for a moment. That's the estimated number of free summer lunches that will be provided to children and youth ages 0-18 through a new initiative starting this summer in Eagle County designed to bring nutritious and healthy meals to our community. Funded through federal dollars, the Summer Foods Service Program is the first of what we believe will be many initiatives emerging from the InteGreat! Coalition: A partnership of parents, students, and 28 organizations in Eagle County spanning the private and public sectors. Eagle County Schools is proud to be actively participating in the InteGreat! Coalition. The vision of InteGreat! is bold and straightforward: An inclusive community in which all children are loved. Where kids are safe, engaged, nourished, healthy, valued, hopeful, empowered, learning, and are successful in life. By design, the vision of InteGreat! is not focused on one income level or one demographic. Instead, the group envisions a community where all children are in an environment where they can thrive and grow. Toward that end, the summer lunch program is open to any child and there are no additional qualifications or conditions. Children and young people can attend any school (or be home schooled) during the school year, come from any background, and speak any language. In addition, lunches are also available for adults in our community for $4 per meal. Open community sites will be at Eagle Valley High School and Avon Elementary School. Eagle Valley High School will serve lunch to students, Monday through Thursday, from 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. and community members can drop by to pick up a lunch from 12:15-12:30 p.m. In Avon, lunches are available on those same days for students from 12:00-12:15 p.m. and open to the community from 12:15-12:30 p.m. A site will also be in operation at Homestake Peak School, but it is open only for students attending a number of summer programs at that school. The Summer Foods Service Program is about much more than feeding the community. Staffed by both Eagle County Schools Food Services employees and an army of volunteers, it's an example of how a community pulls together to solve a problem. It will create a setting four days a week for six weeks, where community organizations can pull together and make sure any need a child in our community has is connected with supports from an organization. InteGreat! approaches needs in our community from an asset frame, as opposed to a deficit one. That is, instead of whining and fretting about what our community doesn't have, we believe that we have extraordinary capacity to do good for our kids already. Our challenge, then, is getting all of these supporting organizations to work as a system and pull together on behalf of our kids. The summer lunch program is an example of this. The lunch program will feed kids taking part in the Youth Foundation/Vail Valley Foundation's Summer PwrHrs for elementary and middle school students (focused on science, tech, engineering, arts, and mathematics), Great Start pre-school educational programming, and Eagle County Schools' summer programming for high school students. At each food service location, information will be available about support programs within Eagle County. Numerous philanthropic, nonprofit, for-profit, and governmental support organizations will set up information stations during the lunch service times so they can raise engagement and awareness for the services they offer. The goal of this approach is simple: Make sure that every family in need in our community is connected with a support that is available. Really, this is the big idea driving the InteGreat! Coalition. The Summer Foods Service Program is an example of our community reaching out and putting its arms around the children. It's a significant first step, but it's just a beginning. Until we reach that point where every child in our community is safe, engaged, nourished, healthy, valued, hopeful, empowered, learning, successful, and loved, we will have work to do. Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at jason.glass@eagleschools.net.

Got milk controversy, Vail Valley?

AVON – Call it the great milk debate. A few months back, 45 parents and teachers from Avon Elementary voted to oust flavored milks from the school cafeteria. They wanted to outlaw strawberry and chocolate milks – products they say pack too much sugar. “Why do my kids need extra calories and sugar?” said Susan Bruno, president of the Parent Teacher Association and parent of two children at Avon Elementary. “It’s just not necessary.” Hearing those concerns, Avon Elementary Principal Melisa Rewold-Thuon said she told the cafeteria manager to remove the flavored milks. But Ray Edel, director of nutritional services, brought back the chocolate milk when he heard about the change. He’s since been working with parents to solve the milk dilemma. “I think it’s an interesting debate on what is the best way to go with that,” he said. “There are studies out that consumption of milk can go down as much as 60 percent (if flavored milks are removed).” “What’s more beneficial: to drink flavored milk or drink no milk?” Edel plans to attend a Monday P.T.A. meeting. There, parents plan to circulate a petition seeking to ban the chocolate milk. Within the school, people are divided philosophically, Rewold-Thuon said. “Some would rather kids have chocolate milk than not drink their milk,” she said. “Others say ‘You don’t really need milk if you’re getting calcium in other ways, so why have all that sugar?” Fifth-graders at the school plan an experiment on how much chocolate versus plain students really drink. At the end of lunch, students will pour their remaining milk into tubs. Then they’ll measure how much of each type of milk goes to waste. “What we’ve seen from the kids is they take the chocolate milk but they don’t necessarily finish it,” Rewold-Thuon said. The National School Lunch program requires schools to offer two different types of milk, Edel said. However, those milks don’t have to be flavored, he said. They could include two different plain milks with different percentages of fat, Edel said. Avon’s fifth-graders are following in the footsteps of farm labor activist Cesar Chavez. They may not be fighting for higher wages or union rights, but they came darn close to boycotting lunch recently. To make it easier for students to relate to a lesson on Chavez, fifth-grade teacher Ines Barcenas ask them: “What’s something that affects you that you could change peacefully?” Students picked school lunches. “They wanted to just jump in and do a boycott, but we wanted to show them to first talk to the people in charge and see if they can make any changes,” Barcenas said. So fifth-graders wrote letters. They petitioned everyone from Edel to Sen. Mark Udall to first lady Michelle Obama, putting their demands for healthier lunches on the page. Students pushed for more fresh foods, higher quality meats and enough federal funding to boost the cost of each lunch from $2.54 to $3.54. “We would like to see most of the processed and canned foods eliminated,” fifth-grader Colby Lange said. “We would like to see more salad bar days, more options.” In a meeting with students this week, Edel agreed to reduce the amount of processed entrees at Avon Elementary by 25 percent next school year. He also took notes on changes students want to see at the salad bar. Edel said he applied to the state Department of Education for a $29,000 grant for fresh fruits and vegetables at Avon Elementary. Inside a fifth-grade classroom Wednesday, students considered which foods they would want the grant to cover. “Oranges,” one student offered. “Melons!” another cried. And the list went on…”smoothies” “corn,” “I love celery!” Students say they’re pleased school officials met some of their demands. However, the kids plan to hold the cafeteria accountable – even once they’ve moved on to Berry Creek Middle School. “If we don’t see what we want or that the lunch is actually healthier, we will proceed with a boycott,” 10-year-old Deimi Bustillos said. Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or smausolf@vaildaily.com. lunchboxadvocates.org

Eating for success at Eagle County schools

It's been 10 years since Napoleon Dynamite stuffed his cargo pants full of tater tots in his high school cafeteria in the movie by the same name. Tots have been a cafeteria staple for, what seems like, as long as school lunch has existed, along with mac 'n' cheese, pizza, mystery meat and other creamy, cheesy, often unidentifiable dishes. While these lunches, in the best cases, appeal to students' taste buds as comfort food, numerous studies and reports of late have revealed that traditional school lunches are not only lacking in nutrition but also contribute to obesity and hinder students' performance in the classroom. And while the movie "Napoleon Dynamite" will remain timelessly quirky and hilarious, its namesake's favorite cafeteria snack is quickly becoming a relic as a result of this research and new legislation such as the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (2010). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In fact, in 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents in the United States were overweight or obese. "The wide availability of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods such as tater tots and chicken nuggets, this is what has led to the obesity epidemic in the U.S.," said Dr. Dennis Lipton, an internist at Vail Valley Medical Center whose personal focus lies in fitness and plant-based nutrition. "When taste buds get accustomed to food that is so high in salt, fat and sugar, we learn to prefer these types of foods. It makes healthier, natural food seem bland and unappetizing by comparison. Then kids say things like, 'I just don't like vegetables.'" The CDC also reports on research that shows the lack of adequate consumption of specific foods, such as fruits, vegetables or dairy products, is associated with lower grades among students. And deficits of specific nutrients (i.e., vitamins A, B6, B12, C, folate, iron, zinc and calcium) are associated with lower grades and higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness among students. "The types of food traditionally found in school lunches are highly processed so they have a long shelf life and are easy to prepare and serve," Lipton said. "They have no naturally occurring fiber, vitamins, or phytonutrients, which are found only in fruits and vegetables, and are essential for optimal health." For Michael Imperi, headmaster at Vail Mountain School, these facts and research were compelling enough to inspire him to make some changes at VMS. "Great schools, like VMS, are analyzing research data on student health outcomes and integrating health education into school improvement plans," Imperi said. "We know that healthy eating habits and an in-depth knowledge of good nutrition go a long way toward improving our students' overall well being." 'Getting kids excited about the garden' Last school year, Imperi and members of his team, including science teachers Gabrielle Scherzer and James Mill and Parent Partners co-chair, Christina Lautenberg, came together on a project that they expect will take both nutrition and education at VMS to a new level. The project is an on-site greenhouse, designed by Bill Pierce Architects, which is making its debut for the 2014-15 school year. The greenhouse will immediately become part of the K-12 curriculum, teaching lessons about both science and nutrition. Eventually, it will be the source of garden-to-table lunches. "Everything is going to be edible to start," said Scherzer. "Everything is going to be food-based. It's not an ornamental greenhouse. Even this year alone … every kid will plant a seed and get to harvest it and eat it." And while the greenhouse isn't expected to produce enough food to feed students and staff this year, Scherzer expects it to immediately be a great learning tool. "This is a multi-step process," said Scherzer. "I really think this year is about getting kids excited about the garden and excited about the table. … The goal this year is figuring out what gets the kids excited, how to get their hands dirty and also to teach them about global citizenship and the business of growing food and how they can bring the tools they learn here out into the world." In addition to the greenhouse, VMS also recently hired a new catering company, Sage Dining Services, to help longtime VMS chef Forest Knapp take the lunch menu to new heights. "By any school standard, we've always had a great school lunch program," Imperi said. "What's changing is that we've now brought in the buying power of a national boutique company. They're very, very nutritionally based and very focused on the buy-local concept." Sage's menus focus on variety in addition to locally grown, organic and nutrient-rich meals; students will see everything from fish tacos to a barbecue pulled pork shoulder sandwich. And every lunch includes two hot entree options, a salad bar, two different soups and a deli station, complete with a panini press, giving students options and teaching them both to try new foods and to make smart eating choices on their own. Sage's online menu features information on the ingredients, nutritional value and allergens for each menu item, helping parents and students alike decide which options are the best for them. Scratch cooking at school VMS isn't the only school making changes for the better when it comes to student health and wellness, the Eagle County Schools' Fresh Approach program, which features whole food entrees, lots of fruits and veggies and breakfast in several elementary schools, is active in all of the schools in the district. "It's a very simple program," said Ray Edel, the district's director of food and nutrition services. "All of the entrees are made from scratch. We have unlimited self-service fruit and veggie bars, use as many whole-wheat products as possible and serve synthetic hormone-free milk. We also eliminated all snacks of little-to-no nutrition." It all started about four years ago when members of the school district were working with a group of parents on creating a student wellness plan. Edel and Tony Cardona, executive chef and operations manager, both attended LiveWell Colorado's Culinary Bootcamps, school food culinary training programs exploring the methods needed to transition school programs to scratch cooking. In total, the LiveWell chefs have spent over 400 hours in Eagle Count Schools kitchens, training the local staff. It's important to note, said Edel, that the Fresh Approach program was implemented ahead of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, which calls for a 10-year implementation program. "Lucky for us, it hasn't had much impact on us as far as food goes," Edel said. "We were already ahead of the act and really didn't have to make many changes at all. Now it's just a matter of completing all of the paperwork necessary to get the funding." "We're one of the leaders in the industry, let alone the state with this initiative," Edel said. "Colorado is one of the leading states in general and Eagle County was one of the first school districts in the country to start implementing these changes early." A sample menu for a local elementary school lunch in Eagle County might look like this: Asian chicken with brown rice, milk and unlimited trips to the self-serve fruit and veggie bar, with the alternative option being the salad bar. And even though there are no tater tots on the menu, Edel says the students' reaction to the menu changes has been positive. "We've received extremely positive feedback from the elementary school students and their parents," he said. "The high school kids are the ones that miss chicken nuggets and tater tots, but this is really the norm now and participation rates are going up and up, and the feedback is better every year."

Eating for success at Eagle County schools

It's been 10 years since Napoleon Dynamite stuffed his cargo pants full of tater tots in his high school cafeteria in the movie by the same name. Tots have been a cafeteria staple for, what seems like, as long as school lunch has existed, along with mac 'n' cheese, pizza, mystery meat and other creamy, cheesy, often unidentifiable dishes. While these lunches, in the best cases, appeal to students' taste buds as comfort food, numerous studies and reports of late have revealed that traditional school lunches are not only lacking in nutrition but also contribute to obesity and hinder students' performance in the classroom. And while the movie "Napoleon Dynamite" will remain timelessly quirky and hilarious, its namesake's favorite cafeteria snack is quickly becoming a relic as a result of this research and new legislation such as the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (2010). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In fact, in 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents in the United States were overweight or obese. "The wide availability of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods such as tater tots and chicken nuggets, this is what has led to the obesity epidemic in the U.S.," said Dr. Dennis Lipton, an internist at Vail Valley Medical Center whose personal focus lies in fitness and plant-based nutrition. "When taste buds get accustomed to food that is so high in salt, fat and sugar, we learn to prefer these types of foods. It makes healthier, natural food seem bland and unappetizing by comparison. Then kids say things like, 'I just don't like vegetables.'" The CDC also reports on research that shows the lack of adequate consumption of specific foods, such as fruits, vegetables or dairy products, is associated with lower grades among students. And deficits of specific nutrients (i.e., vitamins A, B6, B12, C, folate, iron, zinc and calcium) are associated with lower grades and higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness among students. "The types of food traditionally found in school lunches are highly processed, so they have a long shelf life and are easy to prepare and serve," Lipton said. "They have no naturally occurring fiber, vitamins, or phytonutrients, which are found only in fruits and vegetables, and are essential for optimal health." For Michael Imperi, headmaster at Vail Mountain School, these facts and research were compelling enough to inspire him to make some changes at VMS. "Great schools, like VMS, are analyzing research data on student health outcomes and integrating health education into school improvement plans," Imperi said. "We know that healthy eating habits and an in-depth knowledge of good nutrition go a long way toward improving our students' overall well being." 'Getting kids excited about the garden' Last school year, Imperi and members of his team, including science teachers Gabrielle Scherzer and James Mill and Parent Partners co-chair, Christina Lautenberg, came together on a project that they expect will take both nutrition and education at VMS to a new level. The project is an on-site greenhouse, designed by Bill Pierce Architects, which is making its debut for the 2014-15 school year. The greenhouse will immediately become part of the K-12 curriculum, teaching lessons about both science and nutrition. Eventually, it will be the source of garden-to-table lunches. "Everything is going to be edible to start," said Scherzer. "Everything is going to be food-based. It's not an ornamental greenhouse. Even this year alone … every kid will plant a seed and get to harvest it and eat it." And while the greenhouse isn't expected to produce enough food to feed students and staff this year, Scherzer expects it to immediately be a great learning tool. "This is a multi-step process," said Scherzer. "I really think this year is about getting kids excited about the garden and excited about the table. … The goal this year is figuring out what gets the kids excited, how to get their hands dirty and also to teach them about global citizenship and the business of growing food and how they can bring the tools they learn here out into the world." In addition to the greenhouse, VMS also recently hired a new catering company, Sage Dining Services, to help longtime VMS chef Forest Knapp take the lunch menu to new heights. "By any school standard, we've always had a great school lunch program," Imperi said. "What's changing is that we've now brought in the buying power of a national boutique company. They're very, very nutritionally based and very focused on the buy-local concept." Sage's menus focus on variety in addition to locally grown, organic and nutrient-rich meals; students will see everything from fish tacos to a barbecue pulled pork shoulder sandwich. And every lunch includes two hot entree options, a salad bar, two different soups and a deli station, complete with a panini press, giving students options and teaching them both to try new foods and to make smart eating choices on their own. Sage's online menu features information on the ingredients, nutritional value and allergens for each menu item, helping parents and students alike decide which options are the best for them. Scratch cooking at school VMS isn't the only school making changes for the better when it comes to student health and wellness, the Eagle County Schools' Fresh Approach program, which features whole food entrees, lots of fruits and veggies and breakfast in several elementary schools, is active in all of the schools in the district. "It's a very simple program," said Ray Edel, the district's director of food and nutrition services. "All of the entrees are made from scratch. We have unlimited self-service fruit and veggie bars, use as many whole-wheat products as possible and serve milk free from synthetic hormones. We also eliminated all snacks of little-to-no nutrition." It all started about four years ago when members of the school district were working with a group of parents on creating a student wellness plan. Edel and Tony Cardona, executive chef and operations manager, both attended LiveWell Colorado's Culinary Bootcamps, school food culinary training programs exploring the methods needed to transition school programs to scratch cooking. In total, the LiveWell chefs have spent over 400 hours in Eagle Count Schools kitchens, training the local staff. It's important to note, said Edel, that the Fresh Approach program was implemented ahead of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, which calls for a 10-year implementation program. "Lucky for us, it hasn't had much impact on us as far as food goes," Edel said. "We were already ahead of the act and really didn't have to make many changes at all. Now it's just a matter of completing all of the paperwork necessary to get the funding." "We're one of the leaders in the industry, let alone the state, with this initiative," Edel said. "Colorado is one of the leading states in general, and Eagle County was one of the first school districts in the country to start implementing these changes early." A sample menu for a local elementary school lunch in Eagle County might look like this: Asian chicken with brown rice, milk and unlimited trips to the self-serve fruit and veggie bar, with the alternative option being the salad bar. And even though there are no tater tots on the menu, Edel says the students' reaction to the menu changes has been positive. "We've received extremely positive feedback from the elementary school students and their parents," he said. "The high school kids are the ones that miss chicken nuggets and tater tots, but this is really the norm now and participation rates are going up and up, and the feedback is better every year."

Preventing obesity

“I walked five miles to school – uphill both ways!” If you’ve heard this line from a parent or grandparent, that person is trying to ask you something: Have we become lazy? Are we eating too much junk food? Probably. Childhood obesity has gone up in America, while physical education requirements have gone down. With parents and administrators putting more emphasis on math, language arts and sciences, things like “P.E.” obviously suffer. Be active We live in a very active valley, with educated parents who know what good foods are and kids who are involved in tons of activities. In fact, the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District alone offers so many activities that kids now have to choose in any particular season. Along with the traditional sports, WECMRD offers activities, include swimming and karate. Scott Ruff, Facility Manager for the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink, says he thinks an active kid is a happy kid. “Kids need to be active, whether it’s a sport or activity,” Ruff says, adding that it’s especially important at the middle-school level. “The physical and social benefits are tremendous for kids, along with the fact that they’re forming good habits.” Walk a mile This fall, the Eagle County School District is enforcing its “walk distance” rule. Instead of picking up all kids, bus routes will not be stopping for elementary students who live within a mile of their school; for middle and high school students, it’s a mile and a half. According to Colorado law, districts are not required to provide any transportation whatsoever, with the exception of special-needs students. “Elementary students who live within a walking mile won’t have a bus route,” says the district’s director of transportation, Melanie McMichael. “However, we will have more crossing guards for those students.” McMichael says some middle and high school routes will be consolidated, and some parents could be responsible for getting their child to a particular bus stop. Parents, meanwhile, are divided on walk distance rule, with some of the concerns being safety and the greater change of bullying by other kids. To help understand the routes, parents can go online at eagle schools.net for additional route information. Junk food vs. healthy food Then there is the issue of food. What’s good and healthy doesn’t taste like a Kit Kat bar. Schools and other entities have vending machines and concession stands that sell predominately sweet and salty snack food. There are a few with bananas and bagels, but that stuff just doesn’t sell. According to the American Obesity Association, school districts need to be designated lunch rooms where kids can eat with friends in a social setting. Districts also need to receive adequate funds for food service, and the menu needs to mirror the USDA nutrition standards. The food service department at the Eagle County School District does all of that, focusing on all the basic food groups. There is no “junk food” on the menus, and cafeteria workers follow specific recipes from a USDA cookbook. Three of the five basic food groups must be served with each lunch. At Eagle Valley Middle School, the cafeteria offers a daily salad bar and students get have choices in fruits and vegetables. School manager Deb Eichler says middle and high school is more difficult to control, because kids are choosing their own food. However, she says, kids for the most part are making good choices. “Many of our students get a bowl of salad with their lunch,” Eichler says. “We try to give them more choices, so that they choose healthy foods.” Lunch prices, meanwhile, have gone up this year, to $2.75 per lunch for elementary and middle school students and $3.00 for high school students. Common sense tells us that junk food, in moderation, is fine. Classroom parties with cupcakes and punch are a part of life, as is the occasional bag of cheese puffs. But it shouldn’t be a basis for your overall food consumption. For more information on the school district’s efforts for healthy kids, call 328-6321.