A Knoxville school is one of 20 around the state taking part in a study concerning how students learn about healthy eating and nutrition, and how this can be used to help them do better at learning.

Northstar Elementary is part of of the Healthy Schools Healthy Students project sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education; the school is participating in a year-long study of its nutrition education initiatives, and results will be examined by a team from the University of Iowa.

Angie Mitchell is the district’s nurse, and one of the staff members taking an active role in helping students integrate exercise and proper eating into the school environment.

She tells KNIA/KRLS News the project focuses on fourth grade students, and gives them the opportunity to vary their diet by trying new fruits or vegetables.

“It’s hard to like a food if you’ve never had the opportunity to look at it and learn about it and touch it and try a sample of it. And we know that a lot of the things kids try they might not like, and that’s okay; but at least they’ve been exposed to them and know what they are,” Mitchell says.

“So as they grow they can say, ‘Oh, I’ve seen an avocado, I know what that is, maybe I’ll try it again today.’”

Monthly MyPlate nutrition education classes and food tastings are led by retired teacher Mary Hanna, who visits the students as Miss Mary Strawberry; the school also utilizes Cafeteria Coaches, older students who have lunch with the 4th graders and act as role models by eating healthy foods.

The school received $3,950 for its role in the study; those monies can be put towards covering the cost of nutrition education, or making changes in the school wellness environment.