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Photo of a sign at Franicis Desmares School - Click to enlarge
For Immediate Release: October 5, 2012
Contact: Lynne Richmond
(609) 633-2954

(FLEMINGTON) – United States Department of Agriculture and New Jersey Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition officials on October 4 presented Francis A. Desmares Elementary School in Flemington with the HealthierUS School Challenge Award, which recognizes schools that promote good nutrition and physical activity.

The school attained the Bronze level of the award, which earned the district $500. 

“Desmares School’s achievement shows just how much can be accomplished toward improving the nutrition environment when the whole school community works together,” said Rose Tricario, New Jersey Department of Agriculture Division of Food and Nutrition Director.  “They have made eating well and exercise priorities to better equip its students to do their best.  We encourage the school to continue to build upon its success and reach higher levels of the award.”

The HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) is a voluntary national certification initiative for schools participating in the National School Lunch Program.  Sponsored by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the initiative encourages all schools to take a leadership role in helping students to make healthier eating and physical activity choices that will last a lifetime. 

Photo of Healthier US School Challenge Award recipients
Hunterdon County Freeholder Ron Sworen, Desmares School Nurse Kathy Schilder, Assemblywoman Donna Simon; Arleen Ramos-Szatmary from the NJDA's Division of Food and Nutrition, Barbara Castelli, School District Food Service Director, Rose Tricario, and James Harmon of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service

“Achieving the HealthierUS School Challenge recognition demonstrates the Flemington-Raritan Regional School District’s deep commitment to create and maintain a healthy school environment,” said James Harmon, Director of Special Nutrition Programs, USDA Food and Nutrition Service.  “Francis Desmares Elementary School can serve as a model for others seeking to make improvements.”

Not many changes were necessary for Francis A. Desmares to achieve the Bronze level of the award, according to school Food Service Director Barbara Castelli.  The district already had a strict wellness policy in place, whole grain products, fruits and fresh vegetables and 1% or fat-free milk had been staples.  To win the award, they added beans to the menu and offered a variety of healthier snacks.

“Our district is proud of the work and commitment of Francis A. Desmares School in their efforts to educate, motivate and move children to get and stay healthy,” said Stephanie Voorhees, Flemington-Raritan School District Business Administrator.  “Through our district’s Wellness Policy and the tireless efforts of Maschio’s, our food service provider, and with inspiration from their own garden, the Desmares students and staff have embraced lessons on nutrition, physical activity and making healthy food choices.”

The school’s curriculum includes health and nutrition lessons and students have a variety of physical education opportunities, such as the school’s Fitness Club and Jump Rope Club.   In addition, the school was one of nine schools in the state to receive a Team Nutrition Farm to School grant from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture last year for programs to help students eat more fruits and vegetables, learn about good nutrition and promote locally grown produce through the planting of a school garden.  Desmares’ garden is used as an outdoor classroom, supporting many different curriculum units.  The produce from the garden is incorporated into school meals or used for tastings and the produce harvested over the summer is donated to those in need.

The school plans to use its HUSSCA prize money to continue the programs they have started, such as cooking demonstrations, with more of a focus on parent outreach.

Francis A. Desmares Elementary School is among 50 in the state that have earned the HealthierUS School Challenge Award. Ultimately, FNS would like to see all schools receive a HUSSC award at any one of the four levels of superior performance:  Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Gold Award of Distinction.  Schools awarded receive a monetary incentive (Bronze $500, Silver $1,000, Gold $1,500, and Gold Award of Distinction $2,000), an award plaque signed by a USDA official, a banner to display in their school, and their name listed on the Team Nutrition Web site.

To qualify for an award, a school must submit a formal application and meet basic criteria set forth by the FNS for food that should be served in schools.  HealthierUS Schools must also have a local school wellness policy, as mandated by Congress.  Schools receiving a HUSSC award commit to meeting the criteria throughout their four year certification period.

Schools, such as Francis A. Desmares Elementary School, that champion the HUSSC work hard to make changes to their school nutrition environment in order to (1) improve the quality of the foods served, (2) provide students with nutrition education, and (3) provide students with physical education and opportunities for physical activity. 

For more information on the HealthierUS School Challenge, visit