Children who eat healthier perform better in school. The Donna Independent School District is taking that motto to heart.

The district agreed to partner with The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Border Health Office to take part in the Creating Healthy Eating Choices for Kids (CHECK) Plus! Program at the Donna elementary schools. In all, 1,200 fourth-grade students will be involved in the health promotion initiative which focuses on a nutritional balanced diet for school-age children and their parents in the Rio Grande Valley.

The district’s nurse RosaMaria Campos will oversee CHECK Plus! She said this is the first time Donna ISD was selected to participate. The district was awarded $51,200 to pay for the necessary support staff and materials needed for the 18-month-long project. “Donna ISD is very fortunate to have been selected to participate in this program. Our goal is to teach children to make better nutrition choices and show them how to plant, grow, and harvest fruits and vegetables,” Campos said. “If they eat healthy as children, they will grow up to be adults with healthy eating habits. It is a win-win situation.”

Under the program, UTRGV graduate students from the Nurse Practitioner Program will provide nutrition education lessons about the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA’s) “Serving up MyPlate: A Yummy Curriculum” to the fourth graders. Each child will be administered a pre-test and post-test to measure knowledge increase.

The program will also allow students to construct above ground gardens at each of their campuses. They will begin the process in January. In April, the children will plant the fruits and vegetables and begin learning how to maintain the gardens. “This will help students gain a broader understanding of where their food comes from and how important it is for them to incorporate healthy food choices into their lifestyles,” Campos said. The fruits and vegetables will be harvested by students before the end of the year.

During the course of the program, the students will also be allowed to make salads and smoothies in clever, creative ways with the assistance of the university students. They will use a super-hero theme, promoting a fruit and vegetable of the week, holding contests for the healthiest, best-tasting product.

To culminate the project, the district will hold an end-of-project community garden celebration to include a fruit and vegetable feast with the students and their parents. The families will take home some items as well. UTRGV Border Health Director Doreen Garza said the goal of this project is to reach the student at an early age and hopefully get them to inherit healthy eating habits over their life time. “The benefits of teaching students about making healthier choices are too valuable to pass up,” Garza said.  “These young students learn to make healthier food choices, their academic performance improves and ultimately the whole school benefits.”

Garza said they have seen how excited students get about growing their own fruits and vegetables. “The CHECK Plus! program will teach them how to read nutritional information thus making them knowledgeable consumers,” Garza said. “It has been so rewarding to the CHECK Plus! program staff to see how this program has opened these young student’s eyes to how making healthier choices can help them live healthier lives.”