A lesson in nutrition
by Emily McLain
Sep 12, 2013 | 1911 views |  0 comments | 57 57 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SYLACAUGA – Did you know sweet potatoes take 100 days to grow? Or that the part of the plant we eat is actually a storage root? About 400 fifth-graders from Sylacauga City Schools learned these and other facts about the hearty vegetable during nutrition classes at SAFE Family Services Center this week.

Tuesday and Thursday classes were facilitated by SAFE and The WAY (Wellness, Academics and You), a national nonprofit that partners with local schools. Students learned all about sweet potatoes, toured the community garden and participated in a class about healthy food choices.

“This has been awesome,” said Chris White, Alabama coordinator for The WAY. “The students are retaining everything, and I think if given the opportunity, they would make healthy decisions. They’re excited about nutrition.”

The lessons tie in with the health and nutrition initiatives already gaining steam at Pinecrest Elementary this year. With about $15,000 in health-related grants, the school is constructing an educational garden with several special features, starting morning exercise classes and implementing exercise as part of its math and science curriculums, among other things.

“Our hope is every school will model after them,” said White, who also coordinates health activities with Indian Valley Elementary, Salter and Graham Elementary in Talladega, and Sycamore and Fayetteville schools. “The schools have been very receptive, and the teachers have been great. They don’t have to do it; they choose to do it.”

On Thursday, students actively participated in a game that categorized healthy and unhealthy foods, while showing how ‘unhealthy’ options are still OK in moderation.

“They are really thinking, and that’s what amazes me,” White said. “We talked about why chicken fingers were not a healthy choice, and they said, ‘Now, if I grilled that chicken, it would be healthy.’ So they’re thinking. Pizza was the big thing, too. They knew it was unhealthy, but then they said, ‘What if we put vegetables on it?’ And I said, ‘Yes, and a whole wheat crust.’”

Students Dax Flora, 10, Ella Kate Brooks, 10, and Grey Griffith, 11, agreed they enjoyed their trip to the garden. EllaKate said she “learned lots of different uses of sweet potatoes,” and Dax “learned how potatoes grow.” Grey said it was easier to understand when he could watch the lesson firsthand.

“In class, you’re like, ‘What are they talking about?’” he said. “But here, we actually got to see it.”

The WAY primarily supports classroom instruction, but is also available for nutrition classes, and will be present in schools for events like fun runs and field days.

“We train teachers to use the program in their classroom, and all the activities are aligned to the state standards,” he said. “Our hope is to get every child back to being active, moving in the classroom, learning about health and nutrition.”

For more information on its services, contact national coordinator Natalie Steed at natalie@healthy-america.org.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.