Schooled in Nutrition

02/03/2009
By From the Lowell Sun

By Dennis Shaughnessey

DRACUT -- With increases in food allergies and chronic illnesses among school-age children, the School Department has enlisted the help of UMass Lowell to attack those problems.

A collaboration was recently formalized with UMass' Nutrition Sciences Department. With the help of Dr. Thomas Wilson, associate director of the Nutrition and Metabolic Disorders Department at UML, the nutritional value of all food served by the district is now available at http://www.dracutpublicschools.net/nutrition.htm.

Parents can log on the school menu and find information about sugar, calories, fat content, protein and carbohydrates.

"That has been a great help to the school nurses, as they support some of the students with chronic illnesses," said Special Education Director Steven Stone.
 
Extending the collaboration, representatives from the university now have a seat on the school's Wellness Committee.

"It gives UMass the opportunity to do 'real world' things and participate in the district and not just be textbook oriented," said Stone, adding that the university's Nutrition Department will act as a vital resource to Dracut Superintendent of Schools W. Spencer Mullin, and provide special development information to Food Service Director Michael Maguire as well as the school nurses.

"It's a nice marriage between special education, food service and the university. It's a benefit to have those resources at our disposal," said Maguire, adding that the relationship with UMass Lowell began about 18 months ago when former Superintendent of Schools Elaine Espindle began to address the national concerns surrounding juvenile obesity and type 2 diabetes.
"She tried to be proactive and began forging the partnership with the university. Now we've taken it a step further," Maguire said.

The district has also retained the services of a registered dietitian to be a consultant on an as-needed basis. The dietitian will also sit on the district's wellness committee, which was formed in 2006 to promote a healthy school environment. Mullin, who is in his first year as superintendent, has continued to foster a greater awareness of healthy living and wellness as part of his "Blueprint for the Enhancement of Student Achievement."

"With all the budget cuts that are going on in school districts throughout the state, we can use all the help we can get," Maguire said.