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Healthy bodies equal healthy minds

RICH SQUARE – When walking the halls and classrooms at Rich Square W.S. Creecy Elementary School, one may notice something a bit “fruity.”

Overflowing baskets and bowls of fresh fruit and vegetables are everywhere in the school.

The baskets are in the main office, classrooms, lunch room and even in the media center.

“They’re any place in the school that the children have access to,” said Carolyn Williams, Child Nutrition Director for Northampton County Schools.

It’s all part of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Fruit and Vegetable Program, which stems from the 2002 Farm Bill that created a pilot program to provided free fruits and vegetables to students in participating schools, promoting a healthy lifestyle.

In 2004, Congress made the program permanent.

In the local area, the program was first implemented at Garysburg Elementary School. This year the program is in both W.S. Creecy and Squire Elementary in Gaston.

Funding for the program is provided through grants dispersed to 20 schools in each of the eight participating states and three Native American Territories.

Williams said Northampton is the only county in the state that has two schools benefiting from the program.

The fruit and vegetable baskets are filled with anything from bananas to grapes to baby carrots to kiwi fruit and star fruit. Dried fruits are also offered to the students.

The produce is offered after breakfast, lunch and at snack time.

Assistant Principal Gwendolyn Bowser said the program has been successful at the school.

Bowser said she has received compliments from parents who have received shopping advice from their children.

“Students have asked their parents to buy fruits and vegetables,” said Bowser.

And at an age when most children turn their nose up at the sight of anything that’s not sugar coated or swathed in a McDonald’s wrapper, the students of W.S. Creecy will admit they enjoy the healthy stuff.

Unike Perkins, a fourth grader, said she likes the program.

“Because you’re eating healthy,” she said.

It also helps that the fruits and vegetables taste good to the children.

“(My favorite are) grapes and apples,” said Jason Carthon, Jr., who is in Pre-K. “Because I like them.”

At the Pre-K level, teachers have helped teach students colors by teaching them the colors of the different fruits and vegetables.

For fourth graders, the fruit has helped them learn math skills, such as fractions.

Staff of the school also find the program helpful for not only for their students’ nutrition, but for their minds as well.

Teacher Kristi Patterson said she finds the children always anticipating when they can have their fruit and veggie snacks.

“We’ve got to feed the child from the inside out,” said Patterson, a music and fine arts teacher for both W.S. Creecy and Willis Hare Elementary in Pendleton.

“We think so much about education,” said Williams, “when we should be thinking about the total body. A healthy body produces a healthy mind.”

Fourth grade teacher Carolyn Battle has noticed a difference in her class since the program has started.

Before the program Battle noticed that students were exhibiting “inappropriate behavior” and dozing in class.

“It’s just like they’ve come alive,” said Battle about her students after the program started. “It’s been awesome.”

Bowser said officials from Hertford County have toured their facilities to see the results of the program.

Williams has assisted Hertford County Public Schools as well in trying to get the program applied in their county.

“She (Williams) has even gone so far as handing over some of the research she has done,” said Bowser.

The community has benefited economically through the fruit and vegetable program as the school has forged a partnership with Rich Square Market.

According to Cincy Ellison, an employee with Rich Square Market, the market provides fruits and vegetables to the school and in return essays by the children are displayed in the store.

Ellison said that since the program started the market has increased their fresh produce stock.

The school is looking to make partnerships with local farmers as well.

Williams plans to seek another grant for the program next year.

She also said she would like to take some of the children to Congress to show them how the process works.

“This program has proven they will consume (healthy food) if it’s available,” said Williams. “If Congress only knew.”