Hands-on student nutritionprogram earns national award

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CCM/Carol McIntire Carrollton Schools Nutrition Director Barb Burns (seated left) and Outdoor Educator Kay Russell (seated right) won a national award for their collaborate effort to improve the nutritional quality of school meals and teach children where their food comes from. Carrollton Schools Board of Education President Dan Ries is shown seated behind the winners.

By Carol McIntire


Carrollton Exempted Village School District received a Healthy Meals Incentives Recognition Award for improving the nutritional quality of school meals. The recipients are headed to Las Vegas later this year to accept it. 

Awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in collaboration with Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK), Carrollton Schools received the “Innovation in Nutrition Education Award” for work in promoting Nutrition Education regarding Farm to School expansion.

The Innovation in Nutrition Education Award winners implemented nutrition education activities that made classroom, cafeteria, community and home connections for students and parents/guardians using grant funds. The district’s grant totaled $146,558. 

Barbara Burns, nutrition director and Kay Russell, outdoor educator, at Carrollton coordinated with the school cafeteria staff and classroom teachers to provide nutrition education taste panels allowing students to learn about healthy, school grown produce and sample the harvested vegetables. 

Using the grant funds, the pair purchased two hydroponic grow panels equipment to grow the lettuce in the school that is now served on the school menu. Students were involved in sowing, growing and harvesting the lettuce. Each grow panel produced over 144 heads of lettuce in 30 days. 

“You can’t get any more local than growing your own food,” Burns told The Messenger. 

 The team introduced several new entrees using the school grown hydroponically grown lettuces including a new chef salad, toppings for subs, wraps and other entrees, offering a delicious lunch makeover with lower sodium.

Throughout the year, students were involved in several different taste panels. Russell coordinated with teachers on implementing an age-appropriate curriculum in the classroom which she presented to students. 

“The teachers welcomed me into their classrooms,” Russell said. “Following the classroom work, many students participated in planting vegetables and then enjoyed the fruits of their labor at harvest time.”

“Following up after the harvest and taste panels, students were asked if they would like to see the food on the school menu.

“The students overwhelming voted to add sweet potato fries to the menu,” Burns said. “Over 90 percent of the students involved in the sweet potato tasting voted in favor of adding them to the menu.”

Burns said it is nice for students to have input on changes to the menu.

“When they have input, it becomes their menu,” she said.

In one of the lessons, fourth grade students planted potatoes in the spring and then came back as fifth graders the following fall and harvested the potatoes. They were then treated to a baked potato bar with a varying selection of toppings. 

“It was a hit,” Russell said, adding students also planted pumpkins and then enjoyed pumpkin rolls and pumpkin seeds. Another grade tasted vegetable soup. 

“It was an incredible year,” Russell stated, noting it was her first year in the outdoor educator role.

“We have gone from taste panels to production,” Burns said.

In total, the program, included 58 classrooms and reached 1,260 students in this past school year.

School Board President Dan Ries was as excited as the two educators about the award.

“The board loves what these two are doing,” he said. “They are not just growing food; they are using it in education and in the cafeteria.”

“On behalf of the Carrollton Exempted Village School District, I’d like to thank the USDA and the Action for Healthy Kids for recognizing our district for this award. I am extremely proud of Barb Burns and Kay Russell for the work they have done with this grant. They have certainly, earned this recognition and I thank them for all they do. I am also so proud of our cafeteria workers for the efforts they make every day to serve our students and community. They are truly the backbone of our food service program”, said Dave Davis, Carrollton superintendent.

Burns and Russell are equally thankful for the cooperation and efforts of the cafeteria staff. 

“Everyone has worked hard on this project,” Burns said. “We were able to purchase equipment to process the lettuce to make the process easier, one of which was a spinner for the lettuce, along with knives and cutting boards.”

“We congratulate Carrollton Exempted Village School District on this important achievement,” said Rob Bisceglie, executive officer and president for Action for Healthy Kids. “The HMI Recognition Awards are an opportunity to showcase innovative school nutrition practices that provide children with access to nutritious school meals,” he added.

“One of America’s best opportunities to improve child health is by supporting schools in providing tasty and nutritious meals,” said Cindy Long, administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. “This Recognition Award highlights the remarkable achievements Carrollton Exempted Village School District has made in offering nutritious meals that students enjoy, and we look forward to them sharing their best practices to help other schools follow in their footsteps.” 

Long added that each school day, USDA school meal programs reach around 30 million children from all communities and backgrounds across the country.

As an award recipient, Carrollton Schools will receive national and local recognition and travel stipends to attend a national Healthy Meals Summit in Las Vegas, NV. 

As a result of the efforts of Burns and Russell, officials from two educational service centers visited the school and school districts are contacting the school for additional information on the program. 

Burns and Russell also presented the program at the recent High Impact session at the Stark County Educational Service Center.

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