RACINE — Students at four Racine Unified elementary schools get to try healthy new snacks like starfruit and radishes this year, through a federally-assisted grant program.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program reimburses eligible schools for fresh produce offered in the classroom, giving students the opportunity to munch on familiar and unfamiliar snacks.
The grant program is serving 63,000 students at 184 Wisconsin schools this school year, including Racine Unified schools Dr. Jones Elementary, 3300 Chicory Road; Fratt Elementary, 3501 Kinzie Ave.; Julian Thomas Elementary, 930 Martin Luther King Drive and Mitchell Elementary, 2713 Drexel Ave.
“The fruit and vegetable program has given my students an opportunity to try different fruits and vegetables they normally would not have the opportunity to try,” said Fratt Principal Priscilla Marquez. “Every student is asked to try what is given to them to see if they like it or not. It has been an amazing program to encourage my students to experience new things.”
Dr. Jones Principal Sherrie Hopkins said that her students love the program because they get to try healthy, new foods and learn about the history of the foods they try.
For a school to be eligible for a fruit and vegetable grant, at least 50 percent of its students must receive subsidized school meals. Priority when awarding grants goes to schools with the highest rates of students eligible for the free and reduced lunch program.
In all of the Racine Unified schools that benefit from the program, more than 70 percent of students were economically disadvantaged in the 2017-18 school year, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Of the four schools, Julian Thomas had the highest rate, at 86.8 percent.
Comments on a survey about last year’s fruit and vegetable program emphasized its multifaceted impact, according to a press release from DPI.
“It is so important for our children to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables because they can be so expensive for families, and this program also helps introduce new and different produce to our children,” one commenter said.
While it took a bit for students to warm up to new foods like jicama, radishes, and papaya, survey comments indicated that pomegranates and persimmons were popular new tastes, topping the list of favorite foods in many schools.
The program’s impact stretches further than the classroom, according to DPI, as exposure to the new flavors prompts students to ask parents for these fruits and vegetables at home.
“We want our schools to be able to support the entire student, and part of that goal includes nourishment,” stated Gov. and former Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Evers. “The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program gives our students tasting experiences that will help instill healthy eating habits, as well as increasing access to the foods themselves.”
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program began in four states in 2002. Since then it has spread to all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Wisconsin adopted the program in 2008, and Racine Unified began participating in the 2015-16 school year.