Saturday, February 10th, 2007
By Margie Wuebker
Learning wise choices
Grant helping Minster students stride toward fitness
  MINSTER - Students and staff at Minster Local Schools are learning that making wise food choices and increasing physical activity can be tasty and fun.
The new learning experiences are being made possible through a Dannon Next Generation Nutrition Grant.
The school district and its partners - the Auglaize-Mercer County Family YMCA, Wagner's IGA, Haus der Eleganz, F.J. Stallo Memorial Public Library, Joint Township District Memorial Hospital and Road of Life-Cancer Prevention for Kids - received $30,000 to implement a program Superintendent Gayl Ray calls "Fit to Achieve: Good Decisions for Life."
"The goal is to educate kids while they're still young," she says. "And we are trying to involve the entire community in the process."
Dannon established the grant in 2006 and requested applications from organizations located in the vicinity of the company headquarters or any of its production facilities. Minster, which is home to a large Dannon plant, was the first of four communities to be tapped nationwide. Other recipients hail from White Plains, N.Y., Fort Worth, Texas, and West Jordan, Utah.
"We live in such a close-knit community with potential partners," Ray says. "All it took was a few phone calls and the proposal turned into a beautiful spider web of support and cooperation."
She believes the cooperative effort caught the attention of the grant distribution judges.
The school and hospital will join forces March 29 for a health fair at the middle school. Students will move from station to station learning about the dangers of alcohol and tobacco, tips for strong hearts and a host of health-related topics. A cooking competition featuring Dannon products will take place in April in grades 6-12.
In addition to challenging physical education offerings and health-oriented curriculum at various grade levels, the school has established a Feelin' Good mileage club with awards for students as well as staff. Pedometers keep track of steps logged.
"Teachers and other staff members serve as role models," Ray says. "When they step it up, so do the kids."
Elementary/middle school principal Brenda Boeke agrees, adding students who once remained seated after lunch now head to the gym or playground for measured laps. They often compare distances traveled with the adults.
Wally Wagner of Wagner's IGA has scheduled four events promoting good nutrition with banners, store specials and events like milk moustache day.
Haus der Eleganz owner Becky Schmiesing will sponsor hands-on cooking classes geared toward youngsters in grades 5-8. The first session teamed 15 students and a like number of parents or grandparents creating an inviting breakfast of winter frittata, fruit parfait and easy-does-it granola.
"Everyone kept busy chunking up turkey bacon and preparing fruit," Ray says. "The goal is to teach kids healthy foods taste good not yucky."
Upcoming sessions focus on lunch, dinner, dessert and even snacks, with Schmiesing providing take-home recipes and shopping tips.
Stallo Memorial Library purchased 30 new cookbooks with its share of the grant money and employees put together an attractive display.
"Ninety percent of the new books were checked out in a matter of three days," librarian Becky Prenger says. "There is definitely interest in planning and preparing nutritious meals. We're so glad Gayl Ray asked us to be part of this."
The remainder of the library grant covers the purchase of exercise videos with employee Dawn Oldiges proposing after-school classes for youngsters.
Allen Baskett, chief executive officer of the YMCA located between Minster and New Bremen, plans to open the facility for monthly Family Night activities through September.
From 6 to 9 p.m., school district residents can participate in swimming, basketball, volleyball and table games or use weight equipment without charge. Baskett envisions family movies and campfire cookouts when warm weather returns.
Ray is currently seeking recipes (appetizers, salads, main dishes, side dishes and desserts) for a "healthy cookbook" to be distributed in the spring.
Recipes should include the following nutritional information: number of servings, calories per serving and, if available, grams of fat per serving. They can be sent to her at Minster Local Schools, 100 E. Seventh St., Minster, Ohio 45865, or dropped off at the board of education office at the high school.
"These are exciting and hopefully healthier times in Minster," she says. "Although the program focuses on youth, we adults also can benefit."
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