Grant helps students focus on health

ABOVE: Sherburn Elementary School Nurse, Megan Morgan, goes over information on mangoes in a first grade classroom Friday morning during Try Day Friday. The program is made possible through a SHIP grant and aims to teach students about the benefits of healthy eating.

SHERBURN– With a grant from the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) students at Sherburn Elementary School have been taking part in “Try Day Friday” which allows them to learn about and sample different fruits and vegetables given to them by school nurse, Megan Morgan.

SHIP is funded by the Minnesota Department of Health and State Legislation. Local staff from Human Services of Faribault and Martin Counties manage SHIP strategies throughout the counties. Caroline McCourt, SHIP Community Specialist, said one aspect of their work involves schools with an emphasis on healthy eating and physical activity throughout the school day and mental wellbeing for staff and students.

“There’s a lot of opportunities and options schools have when they apply for a SHIP grant. This was an idea Megan has had for a few years now,” McCourt said.

Morgan has been the licensed school nurse at Sherburn Elementary School for six years. She said her predecessor, Laura Kramer, had been working with McCourt on finishing up the previous SHIP grant so she was familiar with the program and the opportunities it provided.

“This was something I wanted to do because I feel there is some disparity and inequity of getting fresh fruits and vegetables to rural Minnesota,” Morgan said.

She said she tried to get the program going a few years ago but Covid hit, so when SHIP rolled out its grant applications last fall, she applied and was awarded a grant to start the program.

As March is National Nutrition Month, Morgan thought it was the perfect time to launch Try Day Friday. Morgan said each year there’s a different theme and this year’s is centered on celebrating different flavors.

“I wanted to go through the rainbow so we’re doing six weeks. It will go a little into April,” Morgan explained.

The program is for all students grades kindergarten through second. Morgan said each Friday she ends up visiting 145 students. She goes into their classes during snack time.

On the first Friday, for the color red, students tried pomegranate. The second week students tried Cara Cara oranges. This Friday they tried mango. Next Friday they will try sugar snap peas and a teacher who grows pea sprouts will also bring them in. Next will be blueberries and then purple cabbage.

Morgan had sent home information with students to give to their parents and at the start of each session, Morgan asks if any students ended up getting what they tried with their parents.

Students aren’t forced to try each item, but encouraged to at least smell it. In addition to smell and taste, students talk about how the fruits and vegetables look and how it makes them feel.

“My vision was that we would be able to have our students have access to healthy fruits and vegetables to broaden their horizon so that learning and food isn’t boring for them,” Morgan said.

She added that research shows that healthy eating patterns and behaviors start to develop as young as two years old.

“If we don’t introduce them when they’re young, the older they get the more reluctant they’ll be at ever trying these foods,” Morgan said.

Students don’t just get to try the different fruits and vegetables, but Morgan also goes over other information about them such as preparation and the various health benefits of them.

“A lot of this, like the antioxidants or vitamins I talk about is more of a prevention strategy to get their mind open and educated about what we’re putting into our bodies,” Morgan said.

The grant also allowed the school to purchase some more recess equipment and a sensory pad in addition to paying for the materials for Try Day Friday which include small sample cups and toothpicks, prep time and the food, which Morgan gets from HyVee in Fairmont.

“HyVee has been so kind and helpful and supportive in collaborating with me. They take the time to answer every question. When I call them and need 28 mangoes they’ll ensure that I have it,” Morgan said.

McCourt said they have competitive grant funding for all of the schools in the area. She said they budget about $3,000 for each school but sometimes there’s more if a school doesn’t apply.

Morgan said as a school nurse, she’s often applying for different grants and while it’s often cumbersome work, SHIP has been easy to work with.

“I feel I have constant help and support. If I have a question, I can call Caroline and she walks me through it. There’s constant communication and it feels more intimate of a grant than I’ve had in the past,” Morgan said.

All in all, Morgan said to see the students happy and interested in healthy eating shows it’s a fruitful program.

“Students are going home and saying, ‘hey I tried this, let’s try this together.’ Expanding horizons funnels back to SHIP with our chronic disease prevention strategies. It all boils down to helping live, learn, work and play, do the best that we can in a healthy manner,” McCourt said.


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