By Kary McCafferty
Seacoast Online
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October 28, 2011

EXETER — When it comes to healthy eating, the Lincoln Street and Main Street schools get a "bronze."

The Exeter schools are the first recipients of the HealthierUS School Challenge put on by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The schools were presented with the award on Wednesday, and held assemblies as a kick-off for the 5-2-1-0 Steps Up Coalition.

In 2009, the Southern District YMCA joined forces with the 5-2-1-0 Steps Up Coalition in the Seacoast area to promote healthy living in the Exeter School District. The term 5-2-1-0 refers to five vegetable and fruit servings, no more than two hours of screen time daily, at least one hour of physical activity per day and zero soda or sugar-sweetened sports and fruit drinks.

"We want children to be healthy at school and at home," said Kim Truesdale, project coordinator for 5-2-1-0 Steps Up. "5-2-1-0 Steps Up recognizes the threat obesity poses to the health of America's children and the importance of decreasing its prevalence not only in Exeter, but everywhere."

According to Kimberly Meyer, director of community programming, Southern District YMCA, the local branch of the YMCA wants to build a facility in Exeter, and sees bringing the Steps Up program to the school system as a positive start to show their dedication. The program has already transformed after-school programs with healthy snacks and more physical activity.

Each month following the kick-off, one of the four figures will be focused on in the classroom. Incentives will also be in place along the lines of healthy and active living. For example, a designated number of books read in class could lead to a game of basketball for students with their teachers.

Rhonda Bernstein, development director, Southern District YMCA, said the breakdown of this program is easy for kids to understand. Students who lead healthier lifestyles will also improve their learning skills.

"Part of teaching to the whole child is not forgetting the nutrition, the active component that is often not addressed in the classroom" she said.

The pep rally on Wednesday began with 12 members of the Newmarket Hot Shots from the Newmarket Elementary School, performed jump roping for the students to show how fun getting physically active can be. They each showed off their favorite moves individually before moving into group routines.

Following the jump roping, the assembly followed along to the 5-2-1-0 cheer.

John Magnarelli of the USDA presented each school with their bronze status awards. HealthierUS is the nutrition component for first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" Campaign. It provides recognition to schools that have gone above and beyond the USDA's requirements for student meals.

Magnarelli said in both schools more nutrient-rich vegetables like squash and romaine have replaced corn. Items with lower fat content have been added. Two percent milk changed to 1 percent and fat free milk. Whole grains have replaced white bread and rolls. This combination of changes has given the elementary schools healthy options that are still appealing.

He also said more physical education has helped the schools stand out. A third component is the integration of nutrition education in the classroom.

The schools were given plaques, a banner, certificates to all school lunch workers and a $500 stipend to go towards the food program for new equipment or staff training.

The assemblies ended with Magnarelli's presentations of the banners, followed by cheering from the audience.

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