Honored for healthy habits, VCMS is visited by Patriot

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Wed., Jun. 8, 2011
Stephen Gostkowski gave Vernon Center Middle School students the 'thumbs-up' during the 'Fuel up to Play 60' event on June 8. Photos by Steve Smith.
Stephen Gostkowski gave Vernon Center Middle School students the 'thumbs-up' during the 'Fuel up to Play 60' event on June 8. Photos by Steve Smith.

One of the healthiest schools in the state is right here in Vernon, and on June 8, Vernon Center Middle School was honored for its efforts with the “Fuel up to Play 60” program, with visits from U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2nd District) and New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

“Fuel up to Play 60” is an in-school nutrition and physical education program, launched by the National Dairy Council and the National Football League, in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture. The program encourages students to be physically active for 60 minutes a day, and to “fuel up” with nutritious foods, including low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The program is sponsored locally by the New England Dairy and Food Council and the New England Patriots.

VCMS computer teacher Teresa Schmitt learned about the program while watching football, and with the help of fellow teachers Crystal Pierce and Monica Pacheco, helped organize a small group of students, who began working with the program's website to make healthy changes at the school. The student body has since been making healthier choices and increasing their activity, while tracking their own progress.

As part of the day’s activities, some of those original “Fuel up to Play 60” students performed a skit and a song about the program.

State Rep. Tim Ackert (R-8th District) read a proclamation from the state General Assembly, congratulating the school.

Courtney said VCMS was one of the highest-performing schools among the 930 in the state that take part in the program.

“When the Dairy Council approached my office and said they wanted to do an event in eastern Connecticut,” Courtney said, “it was a no-brainer that VCMS, because of the hard work of all of the students who participate, justified and qualified it to be the place.”

Connecticut Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Reviczky also applauded the school for its efforts, and added that the state's farmers also contribute about $1.1 billion to the state's economy, as well as more than 4,000 jobs.

“It's very important to eat right, and to exercise,” Reviczky said. “The goal [of the program] is to end childhood obesity.”

Gostkowski took the opportunity to tell the students how seriously he takes exercise and nutrition.

“It's not just something that's for fun,” Gostkowski said. “It's something that's going to help you out long into your future.”

Gostkowski said even athletes like himself can fall victim to being lazy, and that it takes hard work to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“When I was around your age, I was involved in a lot of sports,” Gostkowski told the students. “It was very important for me to exercise every day. Sixty minutes is just a guideline, but you could do more. If it weren’t for the exercise that I got growing up, there's no way I'd be here today. It taught me discipline, it kept me healthy, [and] it kept me out of trouble.”

After the assembly, students broke out into two groups, which alternated between a question-and-answer session with Gostkowski and Coventry dairy farmer Greg Peracchio, and a walk on the school grounds.

Peracchio, a 20-year farming veteran, was asked by a student whether it's possible to ride a cow.

“I suppose you could go for a ride,” he said. “It's certainly not as comfortable as riding a horse, I would imagine.”

Gostkowski was asked what the most thrilling part of his job is.

“Definitely, if I get a chance, to kick a field goal at the end of the game and that's the last play and our team wins,” he said.

Principal Beth Katz thanked the student body, Courtney, and members of the Vernon community for making the recognition possible.

Katz said “Fuel up to Play 60” has made VCMS students excited about nutrition and fitness. “I'm so proud of our students,” she said, “and I am honored that our school was recognized for our efforts in making wellness a priority.”

“This wouldn't be possible without the dairy farmers and the NFL,” said Assistant Principal Jason Magao. “They’ve helped our students make some healthier choices, and helped them live a more active lifestyle.”

For more information, visit www.fueluptoplay60.com.

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