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Secretary Vilsack Highlights USDA Efforts to Promote a Healthy and Productive Learning Environment as Students Head Back to School

WASHINGTON, August 12, 2013—As students across the country prepare to start a new school year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is highlighting a number of Department efforts to promote a healthy and productive learning environment. USDA programs impact students across the country and support the Obama Administration's efforts to improve rural education opportunities, help students grow up healthy and strong, and maintain American competitiveness in the coming years.

"As our youngsters head back to school, USDA is committed to their future," said Vilsack. "We are taking new steps to expand rural education opportunities, ensure healthy and safe food for young people, and giving parents and teachers the tools and information they need to help our kids grow up ready to lead the world."

As part of USDA efforts to promote healthy eating, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion has launched the MyPlate Kids Place, designed for children ages 8 to 12, which can also help parents and educators make better and healthier food choices. It includes games, activity sheets, recipes and tips, in addition to links to the ChooseMyPlate.gov website. Also, USDA has launched the MyPlate on Campus partnership to recruit college-age students to become campus MyPlate ambassadors. These ambassadors will lead their campus community to encourage healthy eating and more physical activity.

USDA is also continuing its effort to promote healthy improvements to school meals through implementation of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The first phase of the updated School Breakfast Program is being implemented this year. These updates will provide students with more whole grains, milk with a lower fat content, and right-sized meals appropriate for the calorie needs of students of different ages – all while ensuring that school officials have the menu flexibility they need. Additionally, beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, fruit offerings will be increased at breakfast and snacks offered to students will include healthier options while limiting less nutritious food.

Recognizing that some students and parents pack meals at home, USDA is also providing information on four easy Food Safe Families steps to help avoid foodborne illness: "Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill."

USDA is also helping inside the classroom. USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and the American Statistical Association (ASA) are preparing to present a new Census at School Food Preference Survey lesson plan and activities for students in grades 5 to 8. This new curriculum teaches statistical and agricultural literacy to children through common core standards in Mathematics, Language Arts, Nutrition, Social Studies, and Family Consumer Sciences.

USDA also announced today that more than $28 million in USDA Community Facilities loan and grant funds are being allocated to improve the quality of rural schools and libraries across the nation. For example, Mississippi Delta Community College in Moorhead, Miss. will receive a $22,000 USDA grant to purchase equipment to upgrade its welding program. Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Libraries will use its $700,000 direct loan to complete the interior of a state-of-the-art library that will serve the community of Hedgesville, W. Va. Located within walking distance of both an elementary and middle school, the library is designed to become a safe afternoon destination for children. Masada Charter School in Mohave County, Ariz. received a direct loan in the amount of over $2.3 million to purchase a newly-constructed, 11-classroom facility complete with a science lab, rooms for art and music, and additional property for athletics. Also, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in Washoe, Nev. will use its $6,500 Economic Impact Initiative Grant to buy office furniture, computer equipment and a storage outbuilding for use at the Colony Library, which serves more than 1,100 residents. The tribe will contribute over $5,300 to the project.

Recently, the President announced an effort to connect 99 percent of America's students to high-speed Internet over the next five years. Since 2009 USDA has provided support for more than 3,300 educational institutions receiving Distance Learning services to help rural kids get an education that's as good as their peers in cities. As of December 2012, 165 educational institutions were receiving new broadband service, or improved broadband service as a result of Recovery Act projects.

Today's announcement continues the "USDA for all Seasons" campaign, which USDA launched this summer to better inform the public about the number of ways USDA helps keep Americans and rural economies thriving.

President Obama's plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President's leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities. Many of these efforts depend on Farm Bill programs, and USDA continues to call for Congressional passage of a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will help the Department continue a wide range of efforts to grow the economy. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack also remain committed to a smarter use of Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.

For more back to school content from USDA this week, be sure to follow the USDA Blog and Facebook as well as the hashtag #B2S on Twitter, where we will be highlighting resources and activities from around the Department.

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