PORTLAND, Maine — Representatives from eight of Portland’s public elementary schools have been invited to a White House reception this month hosted by first lady Michelle Obama, who will recognize the schools for meeting new healthy eating and exercising goals.
While brushes with the first family are typically rare for Maine, this marks the third story tying the Obamas to southern Maine in a week. Michelle Obama was in Portland on Sept. 30 for a campaign fundraiser held at the Ocean Gateway Terminal and in a speech this week, President Barack Obama singled out a crumbling Westbrook bridge as an example of something his proposed $447 billion jobs bill could fix.
Now, a contingent of Portland Public Schools representatives will be visiting the White House on Oct. 17 along with other school officials from around the country who successfully took part in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s HealthierUS School Challenge.
According to an announcement issued Friday by the school department, the award recognizes schools that provide nutritious meals, teach about healthful eating and encourage exercise.
Chanda Turner, Portland district health coordinator, said a major part of the effort to meet the challenge locally centered around revamping the school lunch menus to include more fresh and locally grown green vegetables, beans and seafood. The food is more healthful, she said, and the school’s food money is cycled back through to local farmers and producers.
“It’s about balancing the cost and balancing the health and balancing what kids will eat,” Turner told the Bangor Daily News Friday. “We can’t just make the menu all carrots, because some kids don’t like carrots. It’s been important to make sure the food is delicious and that kids have opportunities to try new things they may not have thought they liked before.”
Nationwide, less than 2 percent of schools have met the challenge, according to the district’s announcement. The Portland elementary schools meeting the challenge are the East End, Hall, Longfellow, Ocean Avenue, Peaks Island, Presumpscot, Reiche and Riverton schools.
“This award reflects a lot of hard work and creativity by our food services director, Ron Adams, and his staff to create healthy school lunches that will appeal to students while living within a tight budget,” Portland Public Schools Superintendent James Morse said in a statement. “Our schools recognize the important role that health, nutrition and exercise play in students’ academic success. We are teaching children why nutrition matters and how they can make healthy choices.”
Members of the Portland delegation of 12 will cover most of their own travel costs, according to the district, with the rest paid by grant funding.
Joining Morse, Adams and Turner will be Hall School Principal Kelly Hasson, Longfellow Principal Dawn Carrigan, Ocean Avenue Principal Beverly Coursey, Longfellow teacher Suzanne Corrado, Presumpscot teacher Rebecca Maiorano, Reiche teacher Laura Graves, Riverton nurse Judy Blackwell Smith, Riverton community coordinator Kathy Cole and Judy Watson, parent of a Reiche student.