MT. VERNON – To Bethel Grade School Superintendent Craig Kujawa, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is not just about promoting nutrition.
The national initiative, he said, also exposes students to food they might not otherwise get to try. In addition to the more traditional fruits and vegetables, the program also features dragon fruit, pineapple, raw potatoes, parsnip, avocado, radishes, pomegranate, and many other foods.
“I think it does a great job in educating children on the fresh foods that are available,” Kujawa said. “It gives them the opportunity to broaden their experience of different foods.”
Bethel Grade School and District 80 schools are among the area districts that will receive federal funding this upcoming school year for the program.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It provides students in participating schools access to free fresh fruits and vegetables at least twice a week. The food is made available during the regular school day, but not during breakfast or lunch.
Many times, teachers will incorporate the food into daily lessons related to math, health, geography, science, and more. For example, fruits and vegetables can be used to illustrate fractions in math class.
“We try to expose them to as many different kinds of (fresh food) that we can,” said Darlene Brooks, food service director for District 80.
Bethel has been awarded $7,228 for this program for the 2013-2014 school year. For District 80 that year, Casey Middle School will receive $22,439; the Primary Center will receive $33,734; J.L. Buford Intermediate Center will get $15,361; and the Benjamin Franklin Early Childhood Center will receive $16,164.
Funding is awarded in the form of competitive grants that school districts apply for.
Districts with a higher number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch are more likely to get funding. About 83 percent of District 80 students qualify for free and reduced lunch, and 73 percent of Bethel students qualify.
District 80 has participated in the program since the 2009-2010 school year. Bethel will be in its fourth year of the program this year.
“The program went very well and many students benefited from the fresh fruit and vegetables,” said District 80 Superintendent Mike Green. “It was a success (last year) and we're excited to have it again this year.”
Several schools in the Centralia area have also received funding for the program this year, including Grand Prairie Elementary School.