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Getting Healthy in 2007

Sharon Rukes is doing her best to make Forest Grove Elementary School students, and their families, healthier in 2007.

Rukes, a health assistant at the Sterling elementary school, is busy planning for the second annual Family Fun and Fitness Day, Saturday, Jan. 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the school. In less than two weeks, the gymnasium will be transformed into a fitness fair. Nutrition specialists, doctors and coaches will be on hand to inform students and parents of ways to eat healthy, stay active and become involved in local sports and exercise groups.

"We want to show students how much fun exercise can be," Rukes said.

ON HAND will be local karate, dance and cheerleading groups, an Inova Loudoun Hospital nutritionist and representatives from Inova’s Partnership for Healthier Kids program.

Partnership for Healthier Kids is a community-based program with two main goals, to identify uninsured children and connect them to an affordable health-care service, and to provide a variety of education programs to students to help them make healthy lifestyle choices.

Dara Markenson, a Partnership for Healthier Kids representative, will be at the Sterling school to answer questions about health care for children.

"We want to spread the information we have to parents who might not know about us," she said. "We have a lot of information to put out there that could help a lot of people out."

THE VIRGINIA State PTA awarded Rukes a $300 grant in 2005, to make Forest Grove Elementary School a healthier place to grow and learn. With that money, Rukes has spearheaded several initiatives, including the Family Breakfast and Lunch Program, Morning and Afternoon Jogging Club, a staff weight loss plan, hygiene lessons for the students and the Family Fun and Fitness Day.

"There are many people in the country, and Loudoun County, battling obesity," Rukes said. "It’s the school’s goal to combat obesity."

The No. 1 problem Rukes see in her school is students going home to empty houses.

"A lot of times students go home to their television sets. There’s so nobody home to watch them play outside," she said.

SCHOOL BOARD member Priscilla Godfrey (Blue Ridge) recognizes the problem and the health, safety and wellness committee member said Loudoun County Public Schools is doing something about it.

Godfrey said the school system wants students and faculty to make smart choices when it comes to food. The committee turned to Food Services Supervisor Susan Kollaja for help.

For the past two years, Kollaja and her staff have worked hard to put more fresh fruits and vegetables on children’s lunch trays.

"We’re constantly revamping the school lunch menu to keep Loudoun County students, and staff, healthy," she said.

Every elementary-, middle- and high-school cafeteria now offers "cold trays," Kollaja said.

The long metal trays, filled with fresh fruits, vegetables and juices are made available in all the county school’s cafeterias.

"Kids can walk by and grab a fresh fruit instead of a bag of potato chips," she said.

While schools still sell potato chips to their students, they’ve made an effort to put healthier items on the menu and provide more of them.

"There’s a feature salad every day on the menu," she said. "And we offer fresh deli sandwiches every day, too."

Parents can take an active role in knowing what they’re children are eating at lunch time by logging on to the school’s Web site, www.loudoun.k12.va.us. The Food Services link provides parents with a complete listing of what’s on the day’s menus, the cost and the percentage of protein, carbohydrates, fat and saturated fat in the meals.

"We want to help students make smart choices," Godfrey said.