Mount Desert Elementary honored with Maine’s first top health excellence award

Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen and USDA’s Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon presented the award at a school assembly Friday and recognized the state as a national leader in creating healthy school environments

NORTHEAST HARBOR – Superfood quinoa and vegetables fresh from the school garden on the lunch menu. A walking and running group during recess. And a Culinary Club that brings students into the kitchen to volunteer alongside food services staff.

These are just some of the health and wellness offerings that helped Mount Desert Elementary become the first school in the state and the second in New England to earn a Gold Medal of Distinction from the HealthierUS School Challenge.

Principal Scott McFarland accepted the award from Maine Department of Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen and United States Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon at an assembly today for students, teachers and the community.

The K-8 school met the challenge’s most rigorous health, nutrition and fitness criteria to qualify for the top honor, including offering at least one serving of whole-grain food each day; varying the kinds of fruits and vegetables served; moderating sodium, portion size and calories; and providing a minimum of 90 minutes per week of physical education.

The recognition earned MDE a $2,000 check presented by Under Secretary Concannon for use by school food service.

The voluntary HealthierUS School initiative improves children’s health by increasing the quality of foods served in schools and providing students with nutrition education and physical education and opportunities for activity.

With the assistance and support of Maine DOE, Maine is a national leader in creating healthy school environments with 22 percent of the state’s schools achieving Gold of Distinction, Gold, Silver or Bronze in the challenge compared to an average of 6 percent nationally.

Four other schools – Connors Emerson, Pemetic Elementary, Tremont Consolidated and Trenton Elementary – in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System have been honored with Bronze certifications in the HealthierUS School Challenge.

“I want to congratulate Mount Desert Elementary and this entire district – especially the food services staff – for the innovative ways they are engaging students in embracing habits now that will foster a lifetime of healthy choices,” said Commissioner Bowen. “When students eat right and get the proper amounts of exercise and rest, they not only improve their health but their school performance.”

MDE was recognized this month by the new Maine School Performance Grading System for reading proficiency of 87.3 percent and mathematics proficiency of 79.4 percent.

“The HealthierUS School Challenge achievement demonstrates the Mount Desert Elementary School’s deep commitment to create and maintain a healthy school environment by promoting good nutrition and physical activity,” added Under Secretary Concannon.

This is not the first national recognition for the small coastal school. Several years ago, their Culinary Club was featured on the Martha Stewart Show and Edutopia, a foundation of famed film produced George Lucas, spotlighted their efforts to include social and emotional learning in the school’s curriculum in a recent online video.

“Mount Desert Elementary School is focused on all aspects of student learning and values a balanced approach to student education,” Principal McFarland said. “Providing healthy foods, educating students on making proper nutritional decisions and expanding their palates is something that we are very proud of and that we feel serves our students for a life time. Additionally, our Culinary Club engages students in our kitchen in a meaningful way and provides yet another avenue for students to bond to our school and have a sense of belonging. We are honored to receive this award and appreciate the recognition that goes along with it. Hopefully our model can be one that other schools can duplicate and provide for their students.”

Earlier this spring, Tripp Middle School in SAD 52 achieved a Gold medal in the HealthierUS School Challenge. Schools from a variety of Maine districts have also earned Bronze certifications so far this year, including those in AOS 93, the Bangor School Department, the Brewer School Department, the Hermon School District, the Millinocket School Department, MSAD 75, and RSUs 10, 19, 20, 24, 41, 49, 54, 68 and 74.

For more about the Maine Department of Education’s school nutrition resources, visit For more about USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge, visit


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