Efforts to Keep Local Students Healthy

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COLUMBIA - Columbia's public schools are making changes in how they handle health assessment, eating habits and physical fitness and mental health.

Schools that previously took part in the Presidential Youth Fitness Program, will not use the Physical Fitness Test after the current year.

Fitnessgram 10, a nationwide health assessment tool, is debuting later this fall. Is designed to better measure children's cardiorespiratory abilities, flexibility, and other components.

A Health Fitness Zone standard is set to analyze, report and assess children's fitness condition.

"We look at everything from what we teach through our health curriculum, to what we teach through physical education, to proper eating habits and exercise," said Michelle Baumstark, the community relations director of Columbia Public Schools.

In line with a health assessment system, Columbia schools are required to provide healthier meals.

"There is the new federal guideline for a healthy meal which is a plate instead of a pyramid. It's divided in half, and on one half, it's smaller than a forth of fruit, larger than a forth of whole grains; and the other side, same thing, it's less than a forth of protein, and more than a forth of vegetables," said Ann Meyr, a teacher at Lee Expressive Arts Elementary School.

Based on USDA standards, this year schools must offer students lunch with five required food components, which are meats, grains, fruit, vegetables and fluid milk. Breakfast must contain three food components, which are grains with optional meats, juice or fruit or vegetable, and milk. Foods must contain no trans fat per portion.

To ensure healthier foods, Columbia Public Schools hired a chef, and tried to switch from the traditional reheating lunch model to from-scratch cooking.

Full-scale kitchen renovations will still take years to cover the whole district, according to Baumstark. The first phase is underway, with five district schools serving as regional kitchens. They are:


  • Oakland Junior High School
  • Smithton Middle School
  • Shepard Boulevard Elementary
  • Mill Creek Elementary
  • Derby Ridge Elementary


"I think, as school, it's important that we offer healthy choices, and advocate for those healthy choices," Meyr said.

With regard to psychological health, Baumstark said students also learn socio-emotional skills on social issues like bullying and peer pressure.

"We really want our students to become healthy individuals that have develop lifelong skills through what they've learned in Columbia Public Schools," Baumstark said.