EAST MANATEE -- Gullett Elementary fifth-grader Robby Goecker, 11, is looking forward to talking to the first lady as he helps her work in White House kitchen garden.
"I want to ask what life is like in the White House," Robby said.
He is one of five children from B.D. Gullett Elementary who will travel to the White House to work with Michelle Obama in the garden -- and they're thrilled and proud.
The other students are Noe Antuna, Morgan DeGlopper, Ishvina Singh and Emilio Vega.
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The students will set off for Washington today and will tour the nation's capitol before they join Obama on the White House lawn Thursday afternoon.
Principal Kathy Hayes said the five students were chosen to travel to the White House based on their involvement in school leadership and after-school activities such as student body
government, runner's club and the school news.
Living up to his reputation as a leader, Robby stressed the importance of healthy habits.
"Being healthy increases your life span and makes your life happier," he said. "It can also get you the chance to go on great journeys like this."
The White House recognized that 29 of Manatee County's elementary schools have received HealthierUS Schools Challenge awards for offering salad entrees daily, whole grain wraps and other healthy options, all taste-tested by students.
JoEllen "Joey" Termaat, the cafeteria manager at Gullett Elementary, says the cafeteria often gets compliments because of its wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Termaat said it can sometimes be a challenge to get the kids to finish their healthy plates, particularly the vegetables served without butter.
"We try to get out there and sit down and talk with them," Termaat said. "If one kid in line likes it, then that is all it takes to get the others to try it, and they are usually pleasantly surprised."
Willis Elementary and Gullett Elementary received the HealthierUS Schools Challenge Gold award, a prize that includes a gift of $1,500. The money will help pay for the White House trip. The rest of the trip will be paid for by food service funds.
Skye Grundy, Gullett's nutrition specialist, and Regina Thoma, the school's dietician, will attend as chaperones.
Parents are also welcome to join their children for the two-day trip at their own expense, although they might not get the pleasure of meeting the first lady.
Gullett parents, students and staff all take pride in the fact the school uses gardening to teach students about health and nutrition. Planting, growing and tasting vegetables gives students a better understanding of nutritious food and promotes healthy school meals."We allow kids to have learning experiences around food," said Sandy Ford, director of food services at Gullett Elementary. "When they learn where food comes from and participate in growing it, it helps them learn about making healthier choices."The fifth annual White House garden planting is part of the first lady's Let's Move! campaign to increase awareness of healthy eating habits and exercise in an effort to end childhood obesity.This year, Gullett Elementary lunches have revolved around the theme Fresh from Florida and have included fresh local products daily.
School board chair Karen Carpenter said she is impressed with Ford and the program Gullett has. Gullett is one of only four schools chosen nationwide and the only Florida school to send students to garden with Michelle Obama.
"Learning is enhanced when there is proper nutrition," Carpenter said.
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081