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A Focus on Healthy Lifestyles in Northern Wisconsin

Keshena Primary School (KPS) is the first Native American school to win the HealthierUS School Challenge in USDA's six-state Midwest Region.

KPS is located on the Menominee Indian Reservation in northern Wisconsin. They are a PreK-4 public school and part of the Menominee Indian School District (MISD). MISD is the only Wisconsin public school district located almost entirely on an Indian reservation.  Virtually all of the students are members of the Menominee Indian tribe. 

I first learned about KPS through my colleague Pat Roberts, who manages the tribe’s Food Distribution Program and is active on the school wellness committee. She encouraged me to connect with the school since they had received a 2011 Wisconsin School Health Award.

Superintendent Wendell Waukau talks about MISD’s student health initiatives with USDA’s Julie Mikkelson (center) and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction consultant Aubrey Weidert. (Photo courtesy of USDA)

So on a sunny and forgiving winter day in February, I had the pleasure of visiting the Menominee Indian Reservation. The Menominee tribe is rich in history and culture, and the reservation is adjacent to vast forest and beautiful lakes and rivers. (I’m told that black bear roam the area, though fortunately, we didn’t encounter one!). 

The visit turned out to be a great opportunity to meet with MISD Superintendent Wendell Waukau, a White House Champion of Change for his school turnaround efforts and strong focus on healthy students. I encouraged KPS to apply for the HUSSC and offered advice on adding more legumes and whole grains to their lunch menus. We were very impressed with the school’s nutrition education efforts, especially the way they encourage students to accept more fresh produce.

What impressed me most was MISD’s enthusiasm and passion for student wellness.  According to the Indian Health Service, nearly 33 percent of Native American children and adults are obese, and over 16 percent have Type II diabetes.  It takes great leadership to create a healthy, promising future for children – and this is at the heart of the First Lady’s Lets Move! initiative.

USDA Food and Nutrition Service Midwest Region Special Nutrition Programs Director Julie Mikkelson (right) presented the HUSSC Silver Award to KPS Principal Michelle Vraney (center) on October 17, 2012. (Photo courtesy of USDA)

Let's Move! is celebrating National Nutrition Month with stories of school cafeterias serving healthy meals across the country. Learn more about the historic, healthy changes to school meals.

See other blog posts in this series: