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SHIPROCK — Elementary schools in the Central Consolidated School District were recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this week for promoting good nutrition and physical activity.

Each of the district's eight elementary schools is enrolled in the HealthierUS School Challenge, a voluntary, nationwide program established by the USDA to acknowledge schools for serving nutritional meals.

Eva B. Stokely, Mesa and Nizhoni elementary schools in Shiprock, Judy Nelson and Kirtland elementary schools in Kirtland, Naschitti Elementary School in Naschitti, Newcomb Elementary School in Newcomb, and Ojo Amarillo Elementary School in Ojo Amarillo received the program's bronze award.

Each school will receive $500 as well as certificates and banners to display on campus, according to a press release from the New Mexico Department of Health.

CCSD was notified about the distinction on Monday. This is the district's first year participating in the four-year certification period.

Margene Purcella, food service coordinator for the district, said teaching elementary students about nutrition, fitness and health education is one way to address obesity and diabetes rates among children.

"Hopefully we are teaching them something that will carry them through their life. The choices they're learning to make now will help them as healthier adults," Purcella said.

The USDA program recognizes schools by awarding bronze, silver, gold and gold award of distinction levels of performance.

To qualify for an award, a school must adopt USDA standards for food served by the school and agree to provide nutrition education and opportunities for physical activity.

In addition to serving meals that emphasize fruits and vegetables, the district serves students smart snacks – those consisting of whole gains – and offers low-fat or fat-free milk, water and 100 percent fruit juice.

Other steps include slicing apples and oranges, which makes them more enticing to elementary students and easier for them to handle, Purcella said.

When The Daily Times visited Eva B. Stokely Elementary School in Shiprock on Wednesday, the lunch menu consisted of whole grain chicken corn dogs, baked fries, cups of grapes, carrots and broccoli, and gelatin dessert.

Cheryl George, the health and wellness specialist for CCSD, said the physical activity goal of the HealthierUS School Challenge falls in line with the district's wellness policy.

"To get the bronze level, what an accomplishment," she said.

There were 41 elementary schools overall in seven counties in New Mexico that received recognition, according to the state health department.

"These awards demonstrate the deep commitment these schools have to create and maintain healthy environments, promote healthy eating and physical activity, and invest in their student's health," state Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher said in the department's release.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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