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Educators honored for health efforts
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Not only is Dawson County Schools doing its part to battle childhood obesity, the system is being recognized at the national level for its efforts.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation - founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. [Bill] Clinton Foundation - has named three local elementary schools and one middle school recipients of National Recognition Awards.

Linda Byrd, school nutrition director for Dawson County Schools, traveled to Little Rock, Ark., on Monday to represent the system.

According to a news release, the organization recognized 275 schools nationwide at the award ceremony for "transforming their campuses into healthier places for students and staff."

Awards were given based on each school's level of achievement in creating healthy eating and physical activity programs that met or exceeded "the stringent standards set by the alliance."

The alliance's program provides free support and technical assistance to more than 12,000 schools nationwide to help them reverse the national trend in childhood obesity. Schools are eligible for bronze, silver or gold awards based on their level of achievement.

Riverview Middle School, Robinson Elementary and Kilough Elementary received bronze awards. Black's Mill Elementary garnered a silver award.

According to the news release, the school implemented a number of programs to increase the opportunity for physical activity throughout the day, as well as offering healthier items for snacks and lunch.

Principal Cindy Kinney said "it's not just a Black's Mill award - it's a Dawson County award. What we're teaching students about health and wellness here, we hope they'll take that home and positively influence others as well."

In addition, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation announced that Black's Mill Elementary nurse LeighAnn Bagley was selected as a Healthy Schools Champion for the 2011-12 school year.

According to a news release, she was identified as one of 21 individuals nationwide who "engaged, motivated and led others toward healthier school environments for students and staff."

Byrd said the awards received by Black's Mill and the three other schools "address all the areas of our wellness policy. That includes wellness, physical education, health education and nutrition education."

She said the system has encouraged schools to offer lower fat, lower sugar food options as well as alternatives to traditional fundraisers.

"We have organized fundraisers other than selling candy bars, stuff like that," she said. "They've had some 5K [runs]."

Local school lunches include five whole grains, she added. "We're also adding more dark green and yellow vegetables ... and lower fat milk."

In order to get the award, Byrd designated a "team nutrition leader" at each school. "There were certain guidelines you had to meet in the program in order to receive the bronze award ... and even more stringent guidelines for the silver award."

Added Byrd: "We're really excited to receive this honor."

In the past, former President Bill Clinton has personally given out the awards. According to the news release, Clinton was scheduled to attend the gathering Monday.