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Ethel McKnight Elementary School Presented with Healthier US School Challenge Award

For Immediate Release: June 14, 2013
Contact: Lynne Richmond
(609) 633-2954

(EAST WINDSOR) – United States Department of Agriculture and New Jersey Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition officials today presented Ethel McKnight Elementary School in East Windsor with the Healthier US School Challenge Award, which recognizes schools that promote good nutrition and physical activity.

The school attained the Bronze Level of the award, which carries a $500 prize.  The school was presented with a banner and certificate for its achievements.

“Ethel McKnight School is committed to offering healthy choices in its cafeteria and only needed to make a few adjustments to earn this prestigious award,” said Rose Tricario, Director of the NJ Department of Agriculture’s Division of Food and Nutrition.  “These changes will better equip its students to do their best and help them grow to be strong, healthy adults.  We encourage the school to continue to build upon its success and reach higher levels of the award.”

The Healthier US 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. 

“Achieving the Healthier US School Challenge recognition demonstrates the Summit School District’s deep commitment to create and maintain a healthy school environment,” said Monique Hatten, Branch Chief, School Nutrition Programs, USDA Food and Nutrition Service.  “Ethel McKnight School can serve as models for others seeking to make improvements.”

Photo of McKnight School officials accepting the HUSSC Award
District School Superintendent Edward Forsthoffer III, Steve Bergonzoni and Monique Hatten from USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Rose Tricario, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov, McKnight Principal Sylvia Zircher, Food Service Director Diane Tomori, and McKnight Assistant Principal David Bilenker

Ethel McKnight Elementary School has 700 kindergarten through fifth-grade students.  To attain the Challenge, the food service director revamped the school lunch menu to incorporate a variety of different dark green and red vegetables along with legumes.  Whole grain items and breads were increased and the school formed an active School Wellness Council, which completed the Centers for Disease Control School Health Index, self-assessment and planning tool that schools can use to improve their health and safety policies and programs.  In addition, students received fun, hands-on nutrition education through teams of teachers, trained parent volunteers, and Rutgers Family and Community Health Sciences faculty and staff.

It is an honor to receive the HUSSC award as it dignifies that this school strives to bring good nutrition and teach healthy living to our growing students,” said school principal Silvana Zircher.  “Through redesigning the school food menu and focusing on the goal of good nutrition, McKnight overcame this difficult challenge. Diane Tomori, the Food Service Director along with the team of faculty and staff at McKnight School worked very hard to receive this award and we are ecstatic that we achieved such a great goal.” 

McKnight School is one of only 68 in the state that have earned the Healthier US 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:  Schools awarded a distinction 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.  Healthier US 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 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 Healthier US School Challenge, visit