Local News

Committee offers ways to improve student health

The Valley Park building houses Ketchikan’s two charter elementary schools.

Do you know what your child eats for lunch every day? You might read the school district’s weekly menu, but do you really know? Well, for one week in January, the Ketchikan School District is inviting parents to find out for themselves.

Wellness Coordinator Barbara McCarthy told the School Board that, as part of an ongoing review of the school district’s lunch menu, Parent Lunch Week has been scheduled for the last week of January. No special menus will be prepared, she said; they will be normal school lunches.

“We also will be eliciting feedback at that time with a survey to see what their thoughts are on the menu items and the nutritional value and the value for money and whether they would recommend keeping those items on a regular rotation,” she said.

After that, McCarthy said the committee will work with the district’s head cook on developing new lunch options. Those new options should be nutritious, not too expensive, and most important, items that kids will eat.

“So he’s going to be preparing samples of the new items and putting them out in the lunchrooms during lunch and letting the kids taste them and then vote on their favorite items, and then those will be the ones that are put into the regular rotation when we do update the menu,” she said.

McCarthy noted that a state grant that funds the district’s wellness program might not last beyond this year, so she and the committee are working on ways to maintain a wellness effort even if the program ends. With that goal in mind, McCarthy stressed the need to establish strong policies that promote student health.

“Policy is the backbone of sustaining action,” she said. “This is potentially one of the most impactful things that can come out of the wellness program, especially if it is only a one-year program.”

Using a standard method, the committee scored the district’s policies on a variety of factors related to nutrition and physical activity. Based on those results, the wellness committee came up with some recommended new policy language. Those recommendations include ongoing improvements to nutrition levels in school meals, and providing nutrition information to students and parents.

Another recommendation is to formally discourage schools using food as a reward, especially at the elementary level.

“We want to move toward this idea of creating an environment in the schools that fosters wellness and fosters healthy attitudes,” McCarthy explained. “Using food as a reward can be detrimental to our students learning how to eat when they’re hungry, to eat what’s good for them and not to associate sugary sweet foods with a job well done.”

Increasing physical activity also is recommended. McCarthy said that one way to accomplish that is through short physical activity breaks throughout the day.

The School Board took no action on the issue. Specific policy recommendations could come back to the board at a later time.

Also on Wednesday, the board voted to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes on school grounds, and unanimously approved a request for the Schoenbar Dance Team to travel for a competition in California. The team members will raise the money for the trip themselves, but needed district approval to attend.

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