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Johnson School wins nutrition, fitness grants

As part grant-funded school-based nutritifitness program East Aurora's JohnsElementary students participated this year an exercise-filled scavenger hunt. Submitted photo.

As part of a grant-funded, school-based nutrition and fitness program, East Aurora's Johnson Elementary students participated this year in an exercise-filled scavenger hunt. Submitted photo.

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Updated: September 1, 2013 6:05AM

AURORA — Students at East Aurora’s Johnson Elementary can look forward to starting the new school year with more recess and fitness equipment, thanks to a grant from the Midwest Dairy Council.

The elementary school found out last week that it won $3,279 for its Fuel Up to Play 60 program, a nationwide school-based nutrition and physical fitness initiative that’s a collaboration between the National Dairy Council, National Football League and U.S. Department of Agriculture. East Aurora’s Dieterich Elementary also won funding for the coming school year through the program.

The grants are competitive and open to schools participating in the federally-assisted meal program, which provides low-cost or free lunches to low-income students.

Last year, East Aurora’s Johnson, Dieterich and Rollins elementary schools won funding through the Fuel Up to Play 60 program.

Saul Olivas, a special education teacher’s assistant who coordinates the program at Johnson, said with the extra money the school will be able to buy more basketballs, soccer balls and footballs for students to use during recess and after school. When school starts he’ll also poll students to see what other equipment they want.

The grant money can be used to buy nutrition and physical education materials, as well as incentive gifts for students and staff.

Last year, Olivas used the funds to do monthly tastings and a fitness club after school, both of which he plans to continue in the coming school year.

For the tastings, he let Johnson students look over a list of healthy foods to see what they wanted to try, many of which the students hadn’t been exposed to at school or home.

Over the course of the year the students tasted about 15 new foods, including soy and almond milks, wheat pasta and fruits like kiwi, guava, mango, tangerines, raspberries and pomegranates.

A surprise winner was strawberries and cottage cheese. “I didn’t think that would go over well for the kids,” Olivas said. “I was really surprised. They really enjoyed it and asked me to bring more.”

Johnson’s program also included activities like a scavenger hunt of physical fitness challenges. To complete the hunt, students had to complete tasks like asking a teacher to do jumping jacks or creating a dance and teaching it to friends.

Olivas, who is an avid runner, said this coming school year he’s challenging staff, parents and students in a new contest: cover 100 miles in a school year by walking, jogging or running.

Olivas won $1,000 to start the 100-mile club at Johnson through the Active Schools Acceleration Project, which works in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama’s health and wellness initiative, Let’s Move. Olivas plans to buy pedometers for students and will hand out timecards so they count the miles they run in gym class.

“I wanted to do something,” Olivas said, “to get them more involved and doing physical activity that a lot of our kids aren’t doing.”

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