Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School is getting healthier this school year.
Parents and administrators are hosting a meeting tonight in the school's library regarding the School Health Index, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control model that promotes the well-being of young people. This will be the second meeting so far this year, of a proposed five, to discuss subjects to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the school's health plan.
Judy O. Neary, the Southeast Alaska program director for Alaska Health Fair and mother of an eighth-grader, has been working with principal Barb Mecum to improve the food that is sold at the middle school. Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium is also helping.
"We just have gone full-bore ahead and have changed about four of the five lunches on the menu," Neary said.
Students are no longer able to purchase the high-fat fried foods that were the popular choices last year, Mecum said. The school now offers healthier options with higher nutritional value, including wraps, fresh sandwiches and rice. Sodas have been replaced with water and light juices in the vending machines and the student store has begun selling fresh fruit instead of sweets.
"We're trying to lower the sugar amount and up the protein and nutritional values," said Mecum.
Although better for students' minds and bodies, changing the menu has also affected the students in other ways. The profits of the lunches and those from the student store go toward students' activities. Those profits have declined slightly since the healthier food came in.
"It's a source of funding for them to do field trips and special events, and it supplies materials," said Mecum.
"This year is the year we decided to make the switch regardless of whether they are selling well on one day or not," she said.
Neary said the decrease of sales is in line with national trends. A decrease in sales the first couple of years generally is followed by improved sales after students become accustomed to their food options.
"Hopefully some day we could make it really cool for kids to have five fruits and vegetables a day ... in a perfect world," she said.
The financial situation is not only expected to get better over time, but the School Health Index process may provide more money for the school in the future.
"If the school is truly dedicated to completing this they would become eligible for other grants, but there is no guarantee," Neary said.
The group will discuss nutrition and physical activity at tonight's meeting from 7-8:30. It will also discuss health education if time allows. Other topics for the future include nutrition services; school health services; school counseling, psychological and social services; health promotion for the staff; and family and community involvement. The meetings will be held periodically throughout the school year and then a report will be created to assess potential improvements.
Providing fresh fruit at the student store was made possible in part through a $700 grant Neary solicite from the Douglas Dornan Foundation. Neary said she began using the grant money in September and has already used half of the funds in the first month and a half of school.
She said it is the schools' and parents' responsibilities to provide healthy answers.
"If they are going to sell things they should really provide healthy options because these are really important years of their development," Neary said. "The obesity levels are so high that it's our responsibility as adults to make sure the students have nutritious foods, fruits and vegetables and lower fat content."
Eric Morrison can be reached at email@example.com.