A Montana State University-based program that provides nutrition education and training in schools has won nearly $300,000 to continue to build resources and provide support for nutrition education, school wellness policy programs and Farm to School programs in K-12 classrooms across the state.
The $294,403 competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will continue and expand the work of the Montana Team Nutrition program. Since the program’s inception in 1995, the successful partnership between the Office of Public Instruction and Montana Team Nutrition has won approximately $3.8 million for a variety of nutrition education-related projects in Montana schools, according to Katie Bark, the program’s project coordinator.
The latest grant, which was applied for and awarded through Montana’s Office of Public Instruction, will be used in a variety of ways, Bark said. A common denominator is that all of the components are designed to help boost nutrition education or provide access to healthy food in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools across the state.
“It’s very important to help kids develop healthy eating habits,” Bark said. “This grant money will be used to help kids learn how to eat right for the long term, and it’s also designed to make it easier for kids to access healthy foods.”
Among other projects, the latest grant will be used to increase training for school food service staff; develop a network to strengthen nutrition education connections between the garden, classroom and cafeteria; maintain a school wellness coach network; enhance school meal marketing efforts to encourage students to select fruits and vegetables; conduct nutrition education workshops for educators; strengthen educator training and resources about feeding concepts for young children; increase support for nutrition education and Farm to School initiatives; and help Montana school districts meet USDA requirements and policies by providing training.
Through the program, schools are invited to apply for funds for specific projects or to tap into a variety of resources that are available for all to use, free of charge.
For example, Gallatin Gateway School, a rural K-8 school with about 155 students, has been working with the Montana Team Nutrition program for at least 12 years, according to Superintendent Kimberly DeBruycker. She said the program has provided a wealth of information and resources that have transformed nutrition education at the school.
DeBruycker pointed to several projects that the program has enabled, including a snack cart with items that are available for purchase. The cart, which was made possible with a grant from Montana Team Nutrition, is stocked with healthy vegetables, fruits, sandwiches, milk and other items that give kids and teachers healthy options throughout the day.
With help from the program, Gallatin Gateway School also built a greenhouse about five years ago to help teach kids about gardening and nutrition. Produce from the greenhouse is sold for fundraisers, and students are also given plants and seeds at the end of the school year so that they can continue to garden at their own homes over the summer.
“When school starts at the end of the summer, the kids bring back pictures of the produce they’re grown,” DeBruycker said. “They get really excited about it.
“Montana Team Nutrition has been an incredible resource for us,” she added.
Bark said there is a great need for additional training and resources related to nutrition education.
She pointed to childhood obesity as one example of the need. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents, and in 2010, more than one-third of children and adolescents were recognized as overweight or obese.
The CDC notes that behavioral factors, as well as genetic and environmental factors, contribute to children being overweight and obese.
Bark also pointed to statistics that show that students who eat breakfast have better attention and memory function, as well as studies that suggest that after just 20 minutes of physical activity, brain activity improves.
The studies address many different issues, but they all provide important information that the Montana Team Nutrition program takes into account when planning its programs.
“Our program addresses one issue – children’s health – from many different angles,” Bark said. “Our goal is to help build healthy nutrition environments that support all students with better behavior, academics and healthy habits.”
Lynda Ransdell, dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Development, which houses the Montana Team Nutrition program at MSU, said that the program’s goals align well with the college’s mission to provide services to the people of Montana and beyond.
And, she said the Montana Team Nutrition program is a great example of why the College of Education, Health and Human Development has started to offer a grant writing boot camp for its faculty. The boot camp is designed to help faculty, particularly junior faculty, be successful in their grant writing endeavors. As part of the effort, the college brought three noted grant writing experts to campus from across the country to share grant writing strategies and provide feedback on grant proposals. The college is fostering grant writing, Ransdell said, because funds won not only provide resources for research and teaching opportunities, but they also often benefit the citizens of the state.
Ransdell added that Montanans are fortunate to have staff from the Montana Team Nutrition program working on issues related to nutrition education.
“The Montana Team Nutrition program has many incredible programs that positively impact children and families across our state,” Ransdell said. “Through Bark and her team’s top-notch work, children’s lifelong eating and physical activity habits have been and will continue to be improved in many schools across Montana.”
Contact: Katie Bark, (406) 994-5641 or firstname.lastname@example.org