Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at HealthierUS School Challenge Celebration

October 17, 2011

MRS. OBAMA: Man, isn't that something? (Applause.) Hello everyone, and welcome to the White House. (Applause.) I am just thrilled that you all are here today. It's a beautiful day for a very special group of people. And we rolled out the red carpet for you all. Does it feel that way? Do you feel a little red-carpet-like? (Applause.)

Let me start by thanking Alex for that very kind and eloquent introduction. I mean, Alex, and the kids that we were -- that's the reason we are doing this. Just listening to his story, understanding that kids, when you teach them how to eat and how to exercise, they implement this stuff. We all know that. So we are so proud of Alex and the thousands of young people just like him that are improving their lives. They're changing the way they think about their health and they're trickling that information down to their families

We're just, Alex, so proud of you. Let's give him a round of applause. (Applause.)

And of course, thank you to Becke for her remarks today and for the work that she's doing every day on behalf of our kids. She has the energy -- you can tell by just listening to her speak -- she could talk you into doing anything, pretty much. (Laughter.) But fortunately, she's used that power of persuasion and that passion to help improve the lives of the kids in her community. And for that we are grateful, Becke. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

And of course, I have to recognize our terrific Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary Vilsack. (Applause.) I love him dearly. He has been a tremendous partner on this effort. Everyone at the Department of Agriculture has stepped up. They were already doing the work, but they've just taken this and have run with it. We are proud of everything you have done, embracing this as you said you would. Secretary Vilsack, thank you. Thank you so much.

And I also have to recognize -- because we had some pretty good entertainment out here today, didn't we? (Applause.) So much so that folks throughout the White House were calling up, asking, well, what country pop bands are out there playing? And I have to just say that, as usual, they are our very own. We have two wonderful bands -- the Marines' own Free Country, and the Navy's Country Current. You all fired it up. (Applause.) We love you. This is the -- one of the President's best perks of living in the White House -- (laughter) -- the bands that come and play. They can play anything. They've played with Paul McCartney. They've done tons of stuff. And you all did a fabulous job today, really setting the mood. And we are grateful.

But most of all, I want to thank all of you. This celebration is for you. We made it -- we said this before; we said we're going to set the challenge. And what we want to do is reward those who reached it by inviting them here. So this was something we had planned a long time ago. And it is just wonderful to see you all here and to celebrate this achievement. We are just so proud.

Because the fact is, in our movement to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in America, all of you -- our nation's educators -- you are the unsung heroes. I get a lot of accolades and everybody is like, "First Lady, you're doing a great job." But you all are doing the real work on the ground. So much of what we've accomplished these past couple of years, so many of the victories that we've won for our kids have happened because of you.

They've happened because of your passion, because of your vision and, more importantly, because of your hard work. Because you all mobilized and organized, we passed historic legislation here in Washington to improve and provide more nutritious school meals to more of our children. We're helping install salad bars in more than 800 schools, bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to hundreds of thousands of kids across this country. We created Chefs Move to Schools, signing up more than 3,000 chefs to help local schools improve their menus and to teach kids about healthy eating.

We've seen more than one million young people earn the President's Active Lifestyle Award -- the PALA awards -- and that means they're exercising one hour a day, five days a week, for six consecutive weeks.

And now, because of all of you, we have met our goal to double the number of HealthierUS Schools within a year. Double the number. Excellent, you guys. (Applause.)

So what you all have accomplished here is very impressive, but, quite frankly, it is not at all surprising. It's not surprising that folks like you are taking the lead on this issue. Because as educators, you see firsthand the impact that childhood obesity has on our children's lives. You see it every day. Not just on their physical and emotional health, but on their academic success as well. You see this.

You know better than anyone that kids need time and space to run around before they can settle down and concentrate in a classroom. You know this. You know they need nutritious food in their stomachs before they can focus their brains on math and reading and science. You see it every day. And when many kids spend half of their waking hours and get up to half their daily calories at school, you know that with the food you serve and, more importantly, the lessons you teach that you're not just shaping their habits and preferences today, you're affecting the choices they're going to make for the rest of their lives.

That's why we start with kids -- right? We can affect who they will be forever. Alex is not going to forget what he's learned and he's going to pass that on to his kids. You're affecting not just how these kids feed themselves, but how they're going to feed their own children. So the beauty is, is that you're not just making this generation of kids healthier, but the next generation as well. And that is truly, truly powerful stuff. (Applause.)

Now, I know that what you do isn't easy. I mean, we're partying now but -- (laughter) -- it takes a lot of work to do what you do -- especially in these difficult economic times, when budgets are tight and you're trying to do so much more with so much less. You're here without the extra money. You've accomplished these goals without the extra help. But you've done it because you've gotten pretty creative. And that's why we want to hold you up. You've done a lot with just a lot of creativity.

Let's take the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School right here in D.C., right in our own backyard. Their chef and founder wrote, and this is a quote -- "We're not a rich school. Our funds are limited. So we asked for, and receive, a lot of help." They work with a local non-profit and a supermarket chain to acquire donated equipment. They got money from the Recovery Act for a new refrigerator and some extra staff. They worked with a parent who owns a local farmer's market. And today, their students empty out their salad bar every day at lunch. And that's something that people don't think will happen, right? Kids won't eat vegetables. Well, you see it. It's happened at this school. They're eating every last bit of broccoli and spinach and cauliflower in those salad bars.

And then there's St. Tammany Parish, just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana -- (applause) -- where I had the privilege of visiting last year. Twenty-five of their elementary and middle schools have achieved the Gold Award of Distinction -- 25. (Applause.) And they've done it by doing a whole range of things. They set up student advisory councils that work with the food service staffs to help plan the menus -- so they're getting kids involved in the process. And students even help run nutrition education programs, teaching their peers about healthy eating.

And then there's the Burlington Elementary School in North Dakota. This is happening all over the country. All over the country. They were the first school in that state to plant a school garden. And they've opened up their gym on the weekends, making an open gym for the families in their community. And the teachers eat breakfast and lunch with students every single day. Now, that's a sacrifice. (Laughter.) You know it. That's love. (Laughter.) They even send out a monthly newsletter called, "Nutrition Notes," to provide healthy eating tips and recipes for the families.

And other schools have started running clubs and fitness competitions. You've engaged students in taste tests and recipe contests. You've incorporated nutrition education into subjects ranging from math and science and art. You've done it all.

So you've shown us that there is no one way to win this award. There's just no one silver bullet. You come from urban, suburban, rural communities. You come from schools that are big and small. Every school and every community is different. That we know. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here.

But there is one thing that all of you do have in common. And I think that Billy Reid, who is the director of Nutrition Services for the Salida Union School District in California -- he put it best. This is what he said. He said, "I find myself honored to wake up every morning…and go out and feed children." It's as simple as that -- honored. The honor of feeding our children. (Applause.) And it's that commitment, it's that kind of commitment to our children's promise -- right? This is our future. Our promise -- the determination to help them all succeed -- that's something you all share. It's that passion.

And I've been out there visiting you, and it is real. You all are willing to do whatever it takes to help our kids. We love our kids -- all of them, every single one of them. And we want nothing but the very best. And this is the way we do it. And you all are doing it like nothing else.

So today, I just want to urge you to keep being the leaders that you are -- because you are truly leaders. That is why you're here. As Secretary Vilsack said, we want you to spread that love and that knowledge. We want you to share what you've learned. There are other schools who are just trying to figure out how they can be a part of this extraordinary club, and you all can do that. You can share your wealth. You can reach out, you can find the schools in your communities, in your states, and share what you've learned. Reach out and help other schools compete.

And I hope that you'll also encourage one another. That's one of the reasons why bringing you all together here from all over the country -- pass out your cards, get some emails and some numbers. Because I know you get tired, right? I know sometimes it's frustrating. I know there's some things that can be better. You all can support one another.

And hopefully, today is the beginning of many, many excellent relationships that will continue to build. So get to know each other. Because this is a competition that every school in America can win. This isn't an exclusive club -- right? We want everyone involved. We want to double the double. We want every school in this country to be aiming for this kind of distinction. Because we know that when our schools win, our kids win. And when our kids win, our country wins. That's why we make this investment.

So thank you from the bottom of my heart. I'm so proud of you all, so excited. Just keep doing what you're doing, and we'll be right there with you every step of the way.

Thank you all. God bless you all. And God bless America. (Applause.) I'm going to come down and shake some hands.

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at HealthierUS School Challenge Celebration Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320549

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