William & Mary

Students board the 'SHIP' to healthy living

SHIPIt's not often school-age kids swarm for a taste of cabbage.

But that's what happened at Clara Byrd Baker Elementary School, as students eagerly flocked to a cafeteria cart serving cooked samples of bok choy.

"It was good," said Kenai Mitchell, 10, trying the Chinese cabbage for the first time. "It was a little bit spicy, but I love spicy."

This week's sample didn't quite leave the impression of last month's kale chips, though.

"Those were delicious," Mitchell said.

Veggies often cause a stir in Williamsburg-James City County elementary schools. This year alone, students have tried 15 vegetables grown at KelRae Farm, in Toano. They might not like the taste, but they're always excited to try.

Farm-to-school tastings are but one way the School Health Initiative Program gets kids excited about healthy living and, even more, turns that excitement to habit.

From classrooms to cafeterias, SHIP is there. There's a Wellness Integration Program, promoting active learning and nutrition education in W-JCC's nine elementary schools. After-school activity clubs involve more than 1,300 elementary- and middle-school students. And consulting chefs work within school cafeterias -- from elementary through high school -- to introduce appealing, healthy options.

"We're really hoping that the SHIP program is changing the school culture, and creating a culture of health and wellness in our schools," said Amy Lazev, SHIP supervisor. "And we see a lot of change happening."

From 2010 to 2013, the number of W-JCC elementary students who ate fruit at least twice a day increased from 55 percent to 62 percent; middle and high schoolers increased from 40 percent to 50 percent. The number of sixth to 12th grade students consuming two vegetable servings daily also increased from 65 percent to 69 percent.

This data comes from SHIP surveying elementary school parents and middle and high school students in collaboration with the Schroeder Center for Health Policy at the College of William and Mary. Survey data also revealed an increase in elementary students getting physical activity for at least an hour each day, five days a week – from 35 percent to 42 percent. The next survey will occur this fall.

Not all outcomes are measurable, but one thing is certain.

"We've seen healthier behaviors in our community over time," Lazev said.

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