Learning Connection Summit Secures Dairy’s Place in Schools

12/21/2013 7:00 AM

NORTH SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The recently convened Learning Connection Summit saw dairy farmers take lead and position themselves as advocates for children’s health issues.

Skip Hardie of Walnut Ridge Dairy in Lansing, N.Y., participated in the summit, which was held in Brooklyn, N.Y., in late October. “Our dairy checkoff dollars are having an impact in ways that I never thought would be possible. Here is dairy farmer money being used to help do a better job of raising children — healthier children, more active children, and trying to fight obesity, trying to do better in nutrition.”

The American Dairy Association and Dairy Council Inc. put together Learning Connection and brought together an extraordinary cross-section of more than 140 key influencers from New York and New Jersey. Focusing on the possibilities and not the problems, Learning Connection Summit participants were asked to envision and design best practices. Teams of school administrators, teachers, students, school food service staff, health and agricultural experts, other non-profits, and representatives from sports organizations worked on developing potential solutions to childhood obesity, food insecurity and poor nutrition. The teams explored opportunities on how to ensure nutritious meals and regular physical activity for all students in New York and New Jersey to ensure children’s success in the classroom and in life.

“Having dairy farmers convene this meeting helps position our organization as proactive and innovative among other key industry groups,” said Rick Naczi, CEO at American Dairy Association and Dairy Council Inc. “The connections we’ve made here will really help in future programming efforts designed to drive dairy sales.”

Multiple platforms for improving the school environment resulted from the collaborative effort including cafeteria redesign, stronger networks between schools and farmers, policies that would increase daily physical education, online resources for schools, increased nutrition education, and expanded school breakfast.

“We are the ones that really see how many kids eat breakfast and how it affects them and what they do in class. And it’s really important that they eat breakfast cause if they don’t, which I see a lot throughout the day, they’re not focused and they don’t really pay attention,” said Sara Munoz, a seventh grader at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Edison, N.J. Her group dealt with an initiative on how to make sure kids start their day with a healthy meal. Munoz, along with Saira Imran, a ninth grader at Piscataway High School in New Jersey, pointed out to the group that many students don’t eat breakfast because they lack time or are not given the opportunity to participate in breakfast and lunch programs at school.

The forum gave dairy farmer Audrey Donahoe, owner and operator of Atrass Farm in Clayville, N.Y., a platform to exchange ideas and find realistic compromises to challenges such as getting children to consume more fluid dairy. “I think it’s a wonderful program we’ve invested into. It’s a win-win for all of us. I want to see kids consuming more dairy, and I want to see them as lifelong consumers of my product,” said Donahoe.

The two-day intensive appreciative inquiry workshop was like nothing ever before experienced, said Stephen O’Brien, director of food and food support at New York City Department of Education. “Pieces of the workshop are familiar as far as brainstorming and trying to garner some consensus behind a particular mission, but the inquiry process has been very innovative and very exciting for us to be a part of because I think that it’s really taken the time to make it fun but get the core content out of the people who are participating.”

To find out more about the Learning Connection Summit and our project goals, visit www.learning-connection.org.

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