About 10 students arrive at Philadelphia’s Northeast High School well before first period each day. Their job is to serve yogurt-and-fruit parfaits to hungry classmates, including many who aren’t getting breakfast at home.
The students are part of a wellness club made possible because their school received funding from Fuel Up to Play 60, an in-school health and wellness program that was founded by America’s dairy farmers and the NFL, and with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Marc Michaels, a Northeast High teacher who serves as the school’s Fuel Up to Play 60 Program Advisor, said he never had to look far for inspiration to make a healthy difference at the school.
“When I was in high school almost every student could run the mile without having to stop,” he said. “In a typical physical education class that I teach here, I might have three students who can complete the run without stopping to walk. So, the cardio element was an eye-opener that these kids aren’t physically fit. And then you see the junk food they were eating. There wasn’t a lot of healthy eating going on.”
Michaels earned Fuel Up to Play 60 funding through the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association that allowed him to purchase equipment and create the cafeteria’s “wellness corner” where low-fat parfaits, cereal and milk are offered to all students.
The program officially launched in November and as many as 175 students now get breakfast. Michaels wants that number to grow – and for good reason.
“You tell them that if you don’t eat breakfast, you’re going to feel lethargic,” he said. “You’re not going to do well in class and you’ll get headaches, which impacts your mood.”
The school has received additional Fuel Up to Play 60 funding from the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association and plans to purchase carts to make breakfast mobile and accessible to more parts of campus. Michaels is hopeful he can help turn the tide through Fuel Up to Play 60.
“I think one of the biggest misperceptions is that kids don’t want to eat healthy but some kids just don’t know how to eat healthy,” he said. “Some kids have never even eaten yogurt before.
“I’m appreciative that there are people out there like the dairy farmers who are interested and understand the need for change and are willing to help out.”