Students at Tubman Elementary School usually have a lot on their plates. But on Monday, it was what they have on their plates at lunchtime that drew national attention to the Northwest school. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama joined Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, supporters, and students from three DC Public Schools at Tubman on Monday for the signing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
The legislation will improve the quality of school breakfasts, lunches and other foods sold in schools, and strengthen nutrition programs that serve young children, including WIC and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
“I think [the visit] was outstanding,” said 10-year-old Sergio Alvarenga, a fifth grader at Tubman ES. “Other kids have problems [getting nutritious food]. They turned those problems into a bill because some students aren’t getting that healthy food.”
The bill is considered a key component of the Obama Administration’s goal of eradicating childhood obesity within a generation.
“At a very basic level, this act is about doing what’s right for our children. Right now, across the country, too many kids don’t have access to school meals,” President Obama said in his address in the Tubman auditorium. “And often, the food that’s being offered isn’t as healthy or as nutritious as it should be. That’s part of the reason why one in three children in America today is either overweight or obese.”
The legislation, which will help 115,000 children gain access to school meal programs, eliminates bureaucracy so that families don’t have to fill out excessive amounts of paperwork to get their kids the nutrition they need, the president said.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 also will improve the quality of meals by reimbursing schools an additional six cents per lunch to help them provide healthier options. The president noted that this was the first real increase in more than 30 years.
“When our kids walk into the lunchroom, we want to be sure that they’re getting balanced, nutritious meals that they need to succeed in the classroom,” President Obama said.
The first lady, who also is working to address the problems of childhood obesity through her Let's Move! Initiative, has met with students at DC Public Schools over the past two years to promote the initiative and spark an interest in school vegetable gardens. She even invited DCPS students to the White House garden for plantings and harvests.
“Our White House chefs have worked closely with educators at this school, and they’ve seen your commitment to serving high-quality school meals to all of your students. I’ve worked side by side with kids from this school, as well as from Bancroft Elementary School, to harvest our White House garden. We couldn’t have done it without all our students helping us,” Michelle Obama said.
“And I saw how hard they worked, and I also saw how brave they were to try vegetables that many of them never even heard of,” she continued. “I also understand that there are students from Murch Elementary School who are here today as well, and we all had just a great time last spring working up a sweat and exercising and playing on the South Lawn of the White House.”
Two students who were part of those events were invited on stage Monday for the bill signing. Deal Middle School seventh grader Tammy Nguyen, who attended Bancroft Elementary School, read an essay she wrote about working in the White House Kitchen Garden when the first lady visited Bancroft Elementary in May 2009. She also introduced the first lady at the launch of the Let’s Move! Initiative in February 2010.
Tubman third grader Luis Avilar-Turcios dreams of becoming a professional soccer player one day and currently plays on the DC Scores soccer team.
Luis’ father, Luis Avilar, said nutritious food is important to his son and all students who hope to be successful in school.
“It is good because that is the way they can learn better and they have to have better food,” he said.
DCPS already offers students high-quality meals that meet or exceed local and national standards. In August, the school system launched a new “portable meals” pilot program in seven schools run by Revolution Foods. Seven other schools get “Meals from Scratch” with fresh, local and nutritious ingredients by D.C. Central Kitchen’s Fresh Start Catering Company under the pilot program.
The meals program won a 2010 Golden Carrot Award from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a national nonprofit organization that promotes healthy diets.
For parents such as Ana Flores, putting the focus on healthy eating at school helps parents support that message at home.
“Sometimes they get sick eating junk food, but if you let them get healthy food, they’ll get healthy – better nutrition means better grades,” Flores said.
For some students, what they eat at school could be the only meals they eat, so school meals have to provide the most amount of nutrition possible, said Monica Davis, a fifth-grade teacher.
Tubman Principal Harry Hughes said the school’s relationship with the Obamas helps drive home the message for children.
“It’s something I will refer back to,” Hughes said. “They’ll be talking about this for the rest of their lives. … They’ll reflect on how important this is. I might say, ‘The president and first lady came here to sign a bill about nutrition – should you really be eating that Snickers?’”