Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a "Let's Move!" Back to School Event at Brock Elementary School in Slidell, Louisiana

September 08, 2010

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thanks, everyone. Good morning! Well, let's start by thanking Mr. Malik -- (applause) -- for just being so awesome. (Laughter.) Well done. We're very proud of you. We're proud of all the students here.

I can't tell you just how thrilled I am to be here with all of you today at Brock Elementary School. We are kicking off this new school year and we are kicking off the next phase of "Let's Move!"

But before I get into that, let me start by thanking a few people. I want to thank Mayor Landrieu, who's here with his lovely wife. There you guys are, right there. (Applause.) Mayor Betty Alford-Olive is here. I got to see her earlier. It's good to see you. (Applause.) And I want to just thank and recognize all the other elected officials who are joining us here today. Why don't you all stand so that we can see you. Say hello if you're here. Thank you all. (Applause.)

And I also have to acknowledge our host of today, Principal Rose Smith, and your superintendent, Superintendent Folse. Thank you all for hosting this, for inviting me here, welcoming me with such warm greetings. And I want to thank you for your leadership and your commitment to our young people. It means so much not just to the kids in this community but the kids in this country.

Now, as some of you may remember, last February, when we launched "Let's Move," we set a goal for ourselves, and that was to solve the problem of childhood obesity so that kids born today reach adulthood at a healthy weight.

And I think it's fair to say that that's a pretty ambitious goal, right? A generational goal -- pretty ambitious. But I think you'll also agree that when we are talking about the health and well-being of our children, when we're talking about our children's futures, then I think that's something that we have to be ambitious about. We don't have a choice.

And we're beginning to better understand the magnitude of this crisis. We're seeing it all over. Everyone is talking about it now. And we know the threat that it poses to the health of our children. So it's simply not enough to solve this problem halfway or to do it incrementally. This is a national problem and it's affecting every single child in every single community in this country.

And that's why, over the past year, we have been working so hard, reaching out to folks all across this country, because everybody has to be a part of this solution. We're working with the food manufacturers. We're trying to get them to put better, more clear labels on products. We're working with restaurants to post calories so you know what you're eating. We're pushing to get better food in our schools. We want to get better information into the hands of parents so that they can make better decisions. And we're fighting to get more grocery stores providing healthy options right in our communities –- and I know that that is an issue that's of particular concern to many people here today.

So over the past year we have worked hard to raise awareness, to get folks engaged, and to get "Let's Move' off the ground. And I think we've done a pretty good job. We've gotten off to a pretty good start. But what we've done so far is just that -- it's a start. So the key now, in this next phase of "Let's Move," is to get results. We have to ensure that our efforts are actually making our kids healthier.

Last spring, our White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity drafted a plan, plan of attack, and they laid out a series of benchmarks that we need to hit in order to reach our goal of solving this problem in a generation. And the plan includes everything from preventing obesity early on by supporting breastfeeding and prenatal care, to getting more doctors to screen our children for obesity, to getting kids to be more active, both in school and out of school. And during this next phase, we're going to be focusing on hitting those benchmarks and holding ourselves accountable every step of the way.

So that brings me to the reason why we're launching this next phase of "Let's Move" right here at this school -- because the truth is when it comes to being accountable and getting results, all of you here at this school and in this district are setting the standard for schools and school districts across the country for doing just that.

You see, right here at Brock Elementary, this isn't just a school that demonstrates a commitment to academic success. This isn't just a school that's a model of determination and resilience, having rebuilt this beautiful school from the ground up after Hurricane Katrina. It is a wonderful facility, and congratulations on that success. But we're here today because this school is a model of excellence in teaching our children healthy habits right from the beginning.

Your success in the Healthier U.S. Schools Challenge is a wonderful example. Through this challenge, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes schools that are doing the very best work to keep kids healthy –- and that includes providing everything from healthy school meals to ensuring that kids are getting regular gym classes.

And as a winner of the Gold Award of Distinction -–which is the highest honor that the USDA awards –- Brock Elementary is among the very best of the best. And that's a major distinction. (Applause.)

And I've heard some pretty interesting ways that you're reaching this goal -- that you've reached this goal. You've been very creative. I hear that the students here participate in food-tasting parties and that they work with the cafeteria manager to teach other children, their peers, about healthy eating. I'm also told that you've even started a jump rope club. I might try that. I think I'm pretty good at jumping rope. (Laughter.)

And Brock isn't the only school in this district to win this honor. See, here in St. Tammany Parish, 25 schools –- that's right, 25 schools right here in this parish -– have earned the Gold Award of Distinction.

And I understand that we also have some representatives here from another school district -– your neighbors in Shelby County, Alabama -– where 20 of their schools have also been awarded Gold with Distinction.

So this is an extraordinary accomplishment, and you all should be incredibly proud because it's not being done everywhere. And this -- something like this doesn't happen by accident. It happens because there are principals and there are food service managers and others who had made a commitment and they put a lot of hard work into getting this done.

And as educators and community leaders, all of you here know better than anyone the impact that childhood obesity has on the lives of our young people. You don't need to read all the studies showing that nutrition and physical activity affect our kids' academic performance, because you see it every day for yourselves right in the classroom and in your communities.

You know that kids need time and space to run and get all that energy out before they can sit down and concentrate. You know they need something more than chips and soda and candy before they can focus on math and reading and science.

The reality is that our schools are on the frontlines of our efforts to fight childhood obesity. You are the ones. There are 31 million American children who participate in the federal school lunch program; 11 million are part of the school breakfast program. So many of these kids consume up to half of their daily calories at school right here. And the nutrition education they get at schools like Brock Elementary sometimes might be the only guidance they get on making healthy decisions about what they eat.

So every day, with the work that you do, and the food you serve, and the lessons you teach, and the example you set, you're shaping our children's habits and preferences, and affecting the choices they're going to make for the rest of their lives. And that's pretty powerful.

Through "Let's Move," I want to provide more support for your efforts and help all our kids lead active, healthy lives. I want all our kids to be like the kids here at Brock. And there are some ways that I think that we can help:

First and foremost, we're working with all of you to get fresher, more nutritious food into our schools. That is key. And we believe that one of the best ways to do this is through the Healthier U.S. School Challenge. This program has spurred schools all across the country to raise their standards and transform their classrooms and their cafeterias into essentially healthy eating, learning labs for their students.

That's why we've set a goal of doubling –- and that's doubling –- the number of schools that participate in the Healthier U.S. School Challenge by June of 2011. And we want to add an additional 1,000 schools in each of the following two years after that.

But in order to reach that goal, we've got to make things easier for schools, so we're going to do that by making it easier to apply, first of all, because we're going to be moving our application online, and hopefully that will help. We're going to be letting districts apply for all their schools with just one application, and hopefully that will help.

We're also going to make it easier for schools to succeed at achieving this standard by providing some better technical assistance and by connecting schools with professional chefs through our "Chefs Move to Schools" program. And already, nearly 1,800 professional chefs -- they met on the South Lawn in their white coats -- have signed up to give nearly 1,300 schools the expert advice they need to meet this challenge.

And when schools do succeed, we want to sweeten the pot a little bit with new cash rewards. And I'll be also inviting representatives from each award-winning school to come to my house -- (laughter) -- for a reception in their honor. Hopefully that will be exciting. (Applause.)

Finally, we're working to increase participation in our school lunch program by 2 million eligible children, and to get another 3 million kids signed up to start receiving school breakfasts by 2015 -- because I think we can all agree that no child in this country should be starting school hungry each day. No child should be going without the basic nutrition they need to learn, to grow, to succeed, not just in school but in life. (Applause.)

But I want to be clear -- it's important to be clear that we can't do any of this unless we pass the Child Nutrition legislation that's before Congress right now. This bipartisan legislation supports critically needed investments to help millions of children get the nourishment that they need to be healthy.

And the good news is that the Senate has already acted on this legislation. And it is my great hope that the House of Representatives will do the same by the end of this month so that we can get this bill signed into law and start working on behalf of our kids.

But of course we all know that healthy eating is only part of the battle. Experts recommend that children get at least 60 minutes of activity a day. And we all know that many of our kids aren't even coming close. That's why another key component to "Let's Move" is simple -- it's getting our kids moving. We want to find new ways for them to get -– and stay –- fit and active, and to do it for the rest of their lives.

One of the key benchmarks that we're working to meet is to double the number of children winning the President's Active Lifestyle Award. Now, to earn this award, students need to engage in physical activity five days a week, for six weeks. Sounds pretty good. And the idea is to help kids make exercise habit-forming. We want to show them how good it feels to be active, so that they'll stick with it long after those six weeks are over.

And we're going to be working with after-school programs and with wonderful athletes, folks like Drew Brees -- you know that character, right? -- (laughter) -- as well as Dominique Dawes. They are co-chairs of the President's Fitness Council and they're going to help promote this program.

And to show everyone just how much fun it can be, I will be working to earn my Active Lifestyle Award. I'm going to do it. (Laughter.) And I want kids across the country to join me. Actually, I want all you all to join me. Don't just leave it on the kids. I want you all to join me. (Applause.) So in a couple weeks -- I'm not sure when it's going to start -- starting soon, I'm going to be recording my progress online, so if I start falling behind, I want everyone to be checking on me and make sure that I'm not slacking. Send me emails to shame me into staying on track. (Laughter.) So I'm excited about it, and I think it's something that's very doable. And the thing is, is that if your kids see you doing it -- your grandparents, uncles, teachers -- they're going to be engaged. So let's make this something that we're all trying to do together.

So that's just some of what we're doing to support your work in schools. And I hope that in the coming months and years, all of you, and schools all across the country, will become even more involved in "Let's Move." I hope that more schools will get their kids working toward these Active Lifestyle Awards. We're going to make it interesting and exciting for kids. All we need you to do is hook them in. Even if you sign up just one class or one club in your school, I guarantee you that if those kids enjoy it -- which they will-- they're going to tell their friends, and sooner or later there are going to be more who want to join in. So it doesn't take a lot, it just takes a little spark.

I also hope that more school districts will set a goal for themselves of having a certain number of their schools become Healthier U.S. Schools each year. And I also hope that schools will work together to help each other get involved as well -- because the truth is there's no limit on the number of schools that can become Healthier U.S. Schools, just like there's no limit on the number of kids who can get an Active Lifestyle Award. See, the truth is we're in this together. Everyone can win. There are no losers.

So if you're a school that has already met the Healthier U.S. Schools Challenge, then I hope you'll reach out to some others and help them find a way to meet the challenge, as well.

If you've found an exciting new activity for gym class that kids are just pumped about, or you found a way to get kids to eat new foods in the lunchroom, we want you to share that, don't keep it a secret, so that other schools and their students can benefit from the knowledge and exploration that you've enjoyed.

That's what we're trying to do with our website, Letsmove.gov, where we posted all kinds of tips and recipes and information that we wanted to share. It's a good-looking website, it's exciting. We've got guest stars on there. So hopefully you all connect in and use that as a tool for sharing.

In the end, these are all the kinds of efforts that will make the difference in our kids' lives. We're in charge here. We can do this. And all of you here, all the folks who are sitting here and listening in around the country who the folks who are going to be a part of solving this problem once and for all. And that's pretty good news that this is a problem we can fix right here and right now.

And there's so many people already doing it. I'm thinking about folks like Amy Alter -- heard about her. She's a resource room teacher at P.S. 105 in the Bronx in New York. And Amy wanted to get her students engaged in "Let's Move," so they created a healthy food bulletin board and they kept daily food diaries. In a letter that she sent me she wrote -- and this is a quote -- "It was an eye-opener for all of us," she said. One of her students also sent me a letter where he proudly told me that an eggplant is actually fruit and then letting me know that he now eats apples and pretzels instead of chips and candy, which is always good to hear.

I'm also thinking about folks like Bill Magley, who's a physical education teacher at the Dream Academy Charter School in Benton Harbor, Michigan. He started this great program that he called the "100 Mile March," where he and his students walk two and a half miles a day, four days a week, until they hit 100 miles. The students who participated not only lost weight, but they gained confidence, and many found the experience to be pretty memorable. There's one student who wrote me and said -- and this is another quote -- "I might not like it, but I'll never forget it." (Laughter.)

And then in Bastrop, Louisiana, our mayor, who is here with us, challenged her young people to improve their eating and exercise habits. And as she told us, it was a challenge that they accepted with great enthusiasm. That's another thing -- kids are ready for this challenge. She said, one student reported -- and this is a quote -- "I was one of those people that didn't think very much about my health. And this program enlightened me." (Laughter.) Another wrote, "This has been a life-changing activity. I feel better about myself and I feel prettier, too." You know, small things.

So with these kind of examples, I know the difference that all of you are making and can make with just little gestures in the lives of our kids. And I know that if we all keep working together, and if we keep making progress and holding ourselves accountable, we can change our children's future. That we can do. We'll meet our goal; we will give our children the happy, healthy future that they deserve. And we may make a few friends along the way.

So I am really looking forward to working with all of you. Congratulations again to the folks here at Brock and to all the schools in the district. I can see it on the faces of your children -- when I got there in the heat and some of them said it was hot. (Laughter.) But they look healthy, they look bright, they look energized. And there is a difference. You can see that different light in their eyes. I've been to schools around the country, and there is a difference when kids feel good and they feel invested in -- not just academically, but as a whole child.

So you all are doing a phenomenal job. And I want the country to look and see that this parish has done great things even with great challenges. You've been able to manage to do this as you built a new school and recover from one of the greatest devastations that this country has ever seen. So if they can do it here, then all the schools out there can do it.

So thank you all. Congratulations again. And we'll see you soon. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a "Let's Move!" Back to School Event at Brock Elementary School in Slidell, Louisiana Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320634

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