MIDDLETOWN — Typically, lunchtime at Middletown High School is reserved for students to fuel their bodies.
Link to article on The Newport Daily News website
Thanks to the new “Lunch n’ Learns” program sponsored by the youth group Islanders Committed, teenagers at the school are getting some fuel for their minds, too.
Brigid Rafferty, a chef and owner of The Power of Juice, talks with Middletown High School students about healthy eating options during a ‘Lunch N’ Learns’ program Wat the school.
Organizers said the goal is to offer students positive advice in a low-key setting, stressing how everyday choices make a huge difference in how they feel, whether it’s the food they eat, the exercises they do or their frame of mind.
In the latest installment on Wednesday, Brigid Rafferty explained the pitfalls of eating junk food and how choosing healthy options is not as difficult as many believe. Rafferty is the owner and chef of The Power of Juice raw-juice company next to Gaudet Middle School on Aquidneck Avenue.
“Lunchtime is the best time to get students with this kind of thing,” said senior Hannah Gibbison, a member of Islanders Committed, the youth committee of the Middletown Prevention Coalition. “With advisory (study hall), students are trying to get things done and this way, they get a good message and we offer food.”
“The food definitely gets people here,” fellow senior and Islanders Committed member Nat Baldwin added. “Seriously, it’s a great idea and it helps show how your choices in one area have an impact on every aspect of your life.”
The seeds of “Lunch n’ Learns” started to grow over the past summer. Members of Islanders Committed saw a presentation by performance expert John Underwood in Lake Placid, New York. Then, motivational speaker Ed Gerety came to Middletown to address the student empowerment group. Out of those experiences, Middletown High School library media specialist David Fontaine suggested the lunchtime chats in an informal manner. Fontaine also serves as an adviser to Islanders Committed.
The idea is to spread a positive, healthy message to students without making it another lecture or classroom lesson. The sessions are held in the school library every Wednesday during each of three lunch periods, which last 20 minutes apiece.
The first presentation on Nov. 1 featured a yoga demonstration and drew more than 40 students. Others have included talks by personal trainers, a well-being therapist and a spiritual leader, with wellness specialists, a holistic counselor and more to come.
To ensure the students don’t go hungry, they’re encouraged to bring their lunch to the library or munch on some of the healthy snacks like carrots, celery and hummus provided for free.
“I think everyone here is beginning to realize how important it is to reach the students on a holistic level,” Fontaine said. “What might be happening in one part of their lives really isn’t isolated, but part of everything they’re going through.”
“This has been a huge addition for us here,” Principal Gail Ponte added. “I know it’s been well received by our students and our teachers. By personalizing it, they’re getting a positive message from different speakers in an informative setting.”
Rafferty spoke to more than 30 students in the first session and about 40 in the second in an easygoing but straightforward manner. Challenging the perception that food that tastes good is bad for you, Rafferty passed out samples of some of the all-organic items available at her store, from chocolate pudding to the Green Giant juice drink.
Rafferty said all the items in her shop are homemade and have a shelf life of no more than three days. Ingredients such as kale, ginger, apple, lemon and parsley are featured prominently.
She went on to talk about the perils of high-fructose sugar and how eating the wrong foods could adversely effect how students feel physically, along with their attitude and performance on the athletic field and in the classroom. The students were a cross-section of the school, from self-professed jocks to top students, artists, musicians and everyone in between.
“Remember, the only people pushing you to eat junk food are the junk-food companies themselves,” Rafferty said.
Rafferty said eating healthy doesn’t need to be costly. She said students and adults can eat better from almost every aisle of the grocery store, and encouraged shoppers to find organic fruits and vegetables because of the absence of pesticides.
“You can eat healthy and do it affordably,” Rafferty said. “It doesn’t have to be everything. If your budget is limited and you eat blueberries and bananas, go organic with the blueberries because the bananas have a peel to protect them.”
Islanders Committed members said they were pleased with the turnout for Wednesday’s event — and all the others. They said the events also help cast the members of the group in a different light, showing they’re not just about an anti-drug and anti-alcohol message.
“I’ll be honest, it’s hard standing out sometimes with this, but it’s the right thing to do and the more people see that’s not what we’re all about, the better,” said senior and Islanders Committed member Andrew Yang said. “This is definitely a good place to start.”
And based on the response, the “Lunch n’ Learns” have been making a difference.
“There was one student I don’t really talk to too much who came up and talked to me about how cool one of (the presentations) was,” Hannah Gibbison said. “He said he went to all three of them and learned something new from each one of them. That’s exactly what I want to hear.”
Link to article on The Newport Daily News website
Photo: Dave Hansen, Staff Photographer