By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 15, 2009; B03
The District's schools would be required to serve students fresh produce from local growers and to dramatically expand physical education programs under a bill introduced by D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh and Chairman Vincent C. Gray.
Cheh (D-Ward 3) said the bill, the Healthy Schools Act, would cover both public and public charter schools. It supports the idea that the long-term health and well-being of schoolchildren is as much a part of education reform as improved teaching and more rigorous courses, she said.
"You don't work on math scores and say the heck with nutrition," she said. "It's not that these are fluff ideas. I don't see this as something subordinate."
Cheh said that the bill, introduced last week, is also designed to address high rates of adolescent obesity in the District by increasing the amount of exercise that students get. D.C. public school students in kindergarten through eighth grade are required to receive 45 minutes of physical education a day, twice a week. In high schools, a semester and a half of PE is required to graduate.
Under the bill, every public and public charter school student in grades K through 5 would receive 150 minutes of physical education a week; students in grades 6 through 8, at least 225 minutes.
"Many people of my vintage say, 'Whatever happened to phys ed?' It seems to play a less prominent role, and we see the consequences of that," Cheh said.
D.C. public schools have worked to improve food service in the past few years, hiring a contractor that upgraded menus.
The District is also running a pilot program at 12 elementary schools, serving fresh fruit and vegetables grown within 100 miles of the city two to three times a week in the fall and spring and at least once a month during the winter, said schools spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway. That program will be evaluated and possibly expanded as finances allow.
National food-service providers generally buy most of their produce from wholesalers. Andrea Northup, coordinator for the D.C. Farm to School Network, a nonprofit organization that works to improve school nutrition through community-based food networks, said that school systems in New York City and Denver have made major strides in including fresh produce in menus. She said that systems in Maryland and Virginia have "robust" programs and that D.C. schools could do more if prompted by the council.
"In the mid-Atlantic, you can get watermelons, potatoes, squash and tomatoes this time of year," Northup said. Storage would be an issue for summer produce, she said.
"That whole issue of processing, storage and transport to take advantage of the growing season is something that hopefully this bill will provide the impetus for," she said.
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