Skyline Middle celebrates Farm to School with Walking Wednesday

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As opposed to the normal routine of heading to the auditorium to wait until the first bell rings, students at Skyline Middle School spent the morning of Oct. 9 with a healthy snack and a lap around the track after arriving at school. Walking Wednesday is an annual event held at SKMS as part of the Farm to School initiative at Harrisonburg City Public Schools. Assistant Principal Tracey Long, the coordinator of Walking Wednesday, believes the lap around the track helps wake up the students and get them ready for the day.

“It’s something different for them,” Long said. “Kids spend a lot of the day sitting and learning, but it’s really nice for them to start the day off like that and with a really healthy snack.”

When students got off the bus in front of SKMS, they were directed to the left of the school toward Smithland Elementary. They walked under the bridge connecting Elon W. Rhodes Early Learning Center with Smithland and up the path to the track. Along the way, teachers handed out apples fresh from Showalter’s Orchard for students to eat during their walk. Once students came down from the track, they were given small cups of apple cider from Showalter’s to drink before school. 

“We had over 700 kids out there on that track this morning, and I think it starts their day off really well,” Long said.

Many of the public schools in Harrisonburg, like Keister Elementary, are able to encourage their students to walk or bike to school because of their neighborhood location. However, SKMS is not located in an area of town near a neighborhood, and it would be unsafe for the students located in the SKMS district to walk there. Walking around the track is the next best option.

“[Walking Wednesday] is a little more contrived [at Skyline] because we aren’t a neighborhood school,” Long said. “We came up with the idea [of walking around the track], probably because at Keister, on the days when it was raining, we would do our walking inside the school building.” 

As part of the Farm to School initiative, Showalter’s Orchard partnered with SKMS to provide the students with apples and apple cider from their orchard during the event. Farm to School is a nationwide program that pushes schools to offer healthy, locally grown foods to students. Director of School Nutrition for HCPS Andrea Early believes Farm to School helps students make the connection between where their food comes from and how it ends up on their plate, while also supporting local businesses. 

“By purchasing from local farmers and producers, we are able to offer fresh and delicious foods to students while keeping food dollars local,” Early said. “This supports our local economy.” 

Many of the local producers that have been partnering with HCPS for Farm to School, like Showalter’s Orchard, have been doing so for many years. It involves a lot of planning and preparation far ahead of time. 

“Most relationships [with local producers] started with a simple conversation about wanting to purchase local foods,” Early said. “From there, we work out specific details with each producer, including type of food, how much we need, what the price will be and how it will be delivered. We also ask many food safety related questions.” 

During Farm to School week, Early, along with cafeteria managers for each school, work together to find ways to implement these local foods into the breakfast and lunch menu. 

“We know which foods students enjoy and we make attempts to source these items locally,” Early said. “We also like to try some new recipes using local foods to see if students will enjoy them. Cafeteria managers work with their staff to figure out the preparation needed to utilize local foods.” 

While implementing locally sourced foods into the cafeteria menu is many times thought of as the only part of Farm to School, activities like Walking Wednesday also play a major role. Walking Wednesday has been a fall tradition at SKMS since Long has worked there, and she is hoping to hold the event again in the spring. Long believes Walking Wednesday and the Farm to Table initiative as a whole encourages students to be mindful of their health and wellness.

“The one thing that we can all do to stay healthy is walking,” Long said. “I think that it’s one of those exercises that you don’t really think about but is nice to start your day with.”

 

  

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