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Seventh graders visit Washington D.C. to tell Congress about healthy changes in school

As part of the nationwide Healthy Schools Program, two students and an adult ally, Vicki Haugo, from Waubun-Ogema-White Earth Community School visited Washington, D.C., on April 21-22 to talk with lawmakers about how their school is working to reverse childhood obesity, one of today's most urgent threats to the health of our children and families.

Cody Kologi and Ryan McArthur, both seventh graders, will join with students from more than 20 other U.S. schools to speak with members of Congress about their school's efforts to provide more nutritious foods, increase opportunities for physical activity and establish staff wellness programs.

All visiting schools are part of the Healthy Schools Program, an initiative of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint venture between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation.

Superintendent Joe Merseth says, "I believe that the Waubun-Ogema-White Earth Community Schools are well beyond the average school district in their wellness programs. We have had training and support of the alliance and we are working hard to stretch our vision of where we wish to be in the future. All staff and students will benefit from this wellness program."

The Healthy Schools Program, and this related trip to the nation's capital, is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving health and health care for all Americans. The foundation has invested $28 million to support the Healthy Schools Program, which will provide hands-on help to 8,000 schools by 2010 and reach tens of thousands more through an online support program.

While in Washington D.C., Cody and Ryan will meet with the offices of Rep. Collin Peterson and Senators Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman to share their stories about the healthy changes taking place at Waubun School and provide a personal invitation to these members of Congress to visit the school during the Memorial Day Congressional Recess.

Accompanying the two students will be Vicki Haugo, a teacher at Ogema Elementary School and a co-coordinator of the wellness council at Waubun-Ogema-White Earth Community Schools.

Principal Mitch Anderson had this to say about the efforts of the school's wellness council.

"I feel we have made incredible strides over the last couple years. When you step back and think about all the different things that have been implemented and supported, it truly is amazing. Whether it was a big change (like recess before lunch) or a small change (like encouraging healthy snacks for birthday parties), students and staff are growing more and more comfortable with the positive changes."

Schools from Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin are expected to be represented in Washington, D.C.

It will not be all business for Cody and Ryan, though. While in Washington, the students will take a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol, and they hope to visit other historic landmarks between meetings with Congressional leaders.

The Healthy Schools Program is working to prevent childhood obesity by making schools healthier places to learn and work. The program offers participating schools onsite and online support, including best practice guides, Web-based seminars, and tools to promote physical activity and healthy eating among students and staff. The support is available at no cost to any school in the country -- public, private or charter.

Another important part of the Healthy Schools Program is the opportunity for schools to be nationally recognized for their achievements at platinum, gold, silver and bronze award levels. Last year, President Bill Clinton recognized 28 schools for their efforts at the Healthy Schools Forum in Little Rock, Ark.

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