Together We Can Create a Healthier Future for the Children

Oneka, MN Elementary Students Run the Healthy Snack Cart

More than ⅓ of all American children and adolescents tip the scales and weigh in as obese. Resulting health issues, such as adolescent Type 2 diabetes (33% increase) and high-blood pressure, are on the rise and nearing epidemic proportions. The high rates of obesity and obesity related diseases are simply unacceptable. Moreover, we cannot blame the children as we adults are responsible for providing our children with better opportunities and choices. Amy Corner, second grade teacher at Oneka Elementary, is one such dynamic and motivating leader who is taking charge and influencing students’ livelihood far beyond that of the basic curriculum.
The Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) website claims, “Children and youth spend roughly half of their waking hours in school, so this setting is a key place to reinforce the importance of eating well and being active.” Armed with this information and a passion to put a stop to unhealthy eating and living, Ms. Corner assembled a healthy lifestyles advisory council made up of parents, teachers and Washington County staff. With funding support from a SHIP grant, Oneka school started an apple orchard, a healthy snack cart and an after school exercise program.

More than the financial contribution provided by the one-time SHIP grant, successful efforts such as these are always measured by the community buy-in. Ms. Corner was quick to point out that the start of the apple orchard could not be possible without community-wide help from Abrahamson’s Nursery  which gave her a deal on the 30 trees, the students and their parents who helped dig the holes and the City of Hugo employees who helped water the trees during summer break. The end result are 29 healthy trees that are expected to fruit next year. “With an onsite orchard the children are learning about the cycle of life, responsibility for caring for our earth and the food we eat, as well as healthy eating options,” said Corner.

In addition to the farm to table experience the orchard provides, Ms. Corner and her crew also launched a healthy food snack cart. The cart was donated and a small start-up investment enabled the Oneka Elementary staff to set up the student-led snack cart program. During each morning break, students are allowed to visit the snack cart and for a fixed price of .75 cents, they can choose two items such as fresh fruit or rice cakes. “Key to this program’s success is choice. The students have a choice on which snacks they want as well as how to run the cart,” said Corner. The students rotate responsibility for managing the cart and are charged with charting buying trends, making recommendations for future purchases as well as marketing the program. With the switch to healthy snacks, teachers are reporting much less tiredness and overall better student behavior.

Last, but not least, Ms. Corner and Oneka PE teacher, Nancy Krocak, put together an after-school fitness program. Student participation was completely voluntary and the student and parent interest was surprisingly high. After each fun fitness program, students were treated to more elaborate snacks such as yogurt parfaits or nutella and banana topped rice-cakes. Most students had never tasted such snacks and were very excited to be able to bring home recipes to share with their families.

Undoubtedly, Ms. Corner is one exceptional teacher who is driven by her love for the students and her passion for healthy lifestyles. The lesson to take away is that with very little financial resources, each of us has the capacity to similarly turn a negative trajectory into a positive one.

Leigh Ann Ahmad was dragged kicking and screaming to the Cities by her husband; having been born and bred in Cleveland, Ohio, she just could not fathom how colder could be better. Now, five years and two kids later, she cannot imagine a better place to play and thrive. She’s a reformed carb-aholic, wannabe writer, social justice advocate, book-club geek, veggie grower and local foods connoisseur. Her last article about local folks working to improve our food system was: A return to the fields: refugee farmers find refuge at big river farms.