VWSD aims to improve student health

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 31, 2014

Improving the health of the 8,500 students in the Vicksburg Warren School District is goal No. 1 for Gail Kavanaugh, director of child nutrition.

She said that there has always been an importance placed on student’s health in the schools and to make sure that every child with special diet needs are attended to properly.

In recent years though, the district has pushed its schools to include more rigorous physical activity, healthier meals and more variety — particularly for students with food sensitivities and allergies.

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Parents of children with these sensitivities may fill out a form requesting special dietary exceptions that are then honored by that student’s school.

“They bring it in and we meet with the parent and discuss the child’s diet. We take that to the school and implement it,” she said.

“We service any child’s need,” she added.

The goal, Kavanaugh said, is to take care of any child that is enrolled at school when it comes to their diet.

One of the first places the district begins is in the cafeteria.

Making meal payment easy was a goal of the district. Students may pay full price for their meal or a reduced price for those with financial needs as determined by federal statute. About 75 percent of the district’s students qualify for free and reduced meals.

Students’ parents may also put money into an account that can be accessed by the student themselves using fingerprint-scanning technology.

Both of the district’s high schools have a biometric scanner that students use to pay for their meals. Students place their index finger on the scanner, and after they are scanned, their name, personal identification number, and school picture is displayed along with the balance in their their account.

Paying for their meal this way offers the student a means of keeping their dietary restrictions and price of their meal private from other students.

While the students are being pushed to eat healthier, the VWSD is doing its part by making a districtwide push to remove all deep fat fryers.

The combination ovens, Kavanaugh said, offer a healthier and better quality of product.

“This gives you a product that is baked chicken, that is like fried chicken. It is cooked with a coating on it that becomes crisp after it is cooked,” she said.

With a price tag of a little more than $35,000, the ovens would be unaffordable. However, a federal grant — the Nutrition Integrity Grant — pays for half the cost of the ovens.

The district also receives financial support from the Bower Foundation — an organization dedicated to improving the health of Mississippians.

The district began adding the combi-ovens six years ago and has since brought them into nearly all of the district’s 15 schools.

Currently, the only three schools in the district that do not have a combination oven are Warrenton Elementary, Bowmar Avenue Elementary and SouthPark elementary. This summer, combination ovens were installed at Dana Road and Vicksburg Intermediate School and Sherman Avenue Warren Central Intermediate School.

In recent years, the district has placed an increased focus on not only improving the quality of the meals offered, but also in the classroom and gym.

Meals aren’t the only component to having a healthy student though, Kavanaugh said. Education and physical fitness are equally important.

“They are required to take health in high school,” Kavanaugh said.

Last year, each of the district’s nine elementary schools participated in Move to Learn — a physical fitness program that incorporates elements of math and language arts with physical activity such as jump roping or running in place.

Kavanaugh said educating the students about their dietary needs can produce benefits outside the schools as well.

“The child learns and takes their knowledge home to the parent and educates the family, so we can help take care of all the students and their family at home,” she said.