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Iung and Setterstrom receive national award for their efforts on ISD 192's Wellness Committee

Gail Setterstrom and Michele Iung recently received the Healthy School Hero award from Action for Healthy Kids.

Making healthy lifestyle changes is hard for any one person to do. Imagine, then, how much work Farmington School District Wellness Committee co-chairs Gail Setterstrom and Michele Iung have had to do in trying to get an entire school district to make new, healthy choices.

The two have been at it for the better part of five years, though. In late May, their efforts were recognized when they were among the 12 national winners of the 2013 Healthy School Heroes, an award presented through Action for Healthy Kids.

They were nominated by Shannon Bailey, adolescent health coordinator from Dakota County Public Health. The District 192 Wellness Committee works with Dakota County Public Health through the Action for Healthy Kids initiative.

Farmington's wellness committee is 18 to 20 members strong, Iung said. It has representatives from each of the school buildings in District 192. Several administrators also participate. They hope to get parents on board in the future.

But there was a time when the committee pretty much came down to Iung and Setterstrom. It was formed back in 2006, when the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act first required school districts to establish wellness committees. Initially, Farmington's committee was geared toward school staff. The group was formed, but little work was done at first, and eventually the project was "put on the shelf for a while," Setterstrom said.

A couple of years later, Farmington's food service provider, Chartwells, notified the school district of some possible funding available, but the program had to address student health and wellness. The plan had to include nutrition, exercise and so on.

One thing led to another. The wellness committee started to branch out into different buildings, using different programs. At the high school, for instance, they took all of the soda out of the vending machines, and removed a lot of the junk food, too. The same went for the schools' snack shops.

Little by little, the concept started to trickle down through the district. Akin Road Elementary School started up a snack cart, where students helped deliver healthy snacks like apples and granola bars, to the classrooms during snack breaks. The healthy snacks replaced the chips or cookies that had been available in the past. Before long, all five elementary schools were doing similar snack cart projects.

"This award focuses more on the nutrition piece, and how we have made healthy foods more accessible," Iung said. "It's a slow culture change. We just have to keep plugging away at it."

Setterstrom and Iung were the only recipients of the Action for Healthy Kids Healthy School Hero award in Minnesota. They'll receive $500 for the award at the Action for Healthy Kids steering committee meeting next week. They intend to put the funds right back into Farmington's wellness committee so the committee can continue its work.

And there is still work to do, Setterstrom said. While the school district has been successful in getting students to think about healthy food and exercise while they're in schools, Setterstrom hopes to see more involvement from parents. Getting students to make healthy choices when they're not in school depends greatly on parents.

The wellness committee is also setting up some new programs for high school and middle school students.

"I just feel like we need to keep layering that information out there," Setterstrom said. "We just need to keep doing what we're doing, because there is a proven connection between nutrition, activity and academic success."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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