BELFAST, Maine — With their teachers dressed as vegetables and leading them in song, elementary pupils at East Belfast School kicked off a program aimed at getting them to eat fruits and vegetables and to eliminate sugary drinks.
Called 5210 Goes to School, the program was instituted three years ago in Greater Portland schools as a project of Kids Co-Op of the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center. It was brought to RSU 20 and SAD 3 in Waldo County this year by Healthy Waldo County, a Healthy Maine Partnership Program, and includes physicians from Waldo County General Hospital.
The program endorses the 5-2-1-0 message that emphasizes the importance of five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily, two hours or less of recreational time in front of a computer or television, one hour or more of physical activity, and zero sugary drinks — consuming water and low-fat milk instead.
“I think it was fun,” Belfast fifth-grader Victoria Schultz said after the program’s kickoff event. “It’s a good learning experience, especially for the younger kids.”
Principal Jody Henderson gathered her kindergarten through fifth-grade students in the gymnasium as they arrived for school Wednesday morning and told them there was a surprise in store. She then introduced Superintendent of School Bruce Mailloux who singled out student teacher Nick Arthurs, a former Belfast Area High School athlete who is now a college senior, as an example of a healthy person who watched what he ate.
“This is a new program to make you healthy,” Mailloux told the children. “We want you to be healthy. You’ve met student teacher Mr. Arthurs. He’s a guy who eats his fruits and vegetables and you can see how big he is.”
Then the pupils got to their feet and started singing a song they learned with the chorus “One, two, three, four, five a day, that’s the fruit and vegetable way. Five a day.”
Soon their teachers started dancing while wearing costumes representing fruits and vegetables such as apples, watermelons, peas, carrots and strawberries. It wasn’t long before the kids joined in and the entire group bounced in rhythm to the song.
“Just like an eighth-grade dance,” Mailloux observed from the sidelines. “One gets up, and pretty soon they all join in.”
RSU 20 school health coordinator Linda Hartkopf said the program was instituted to give the children a better understanding of the foods they eat. She said 5210 would be worked into their lessons and their physical education. Each Monday and Wednesday, students will be given a fruit or vegetable as a snack and each class will take turns preparing those snacks of the week.
Hartkopf noted that letters were sent to all the parents containing fliers on healthful snacks and how to hold healthful celebrations and parties.
“All their teachers have been introduced to it,” Hartkopf said of the 5210 program. “It starts with the five and gets the kids thinking of it. We will start one number at a time and build their confidence.”
After the program, all the classes marched outside to the front of the school to help Belfast City Councilor Jan Anderson plant an apple tree that, if all goes well, should bear fruit in a few years.
“What’s the tree’s name going to be?” asked a boy.
“Mystery Spy,” he was told.