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Four city schools recognized as among nation’s healthiest

Los Angeles is getting national media attention for its district-wide flavored milk ban today, but one Queens school implemented that policy months ago.

The Active Learning Elementary School (P.S. 244), or TALES, opened in 2008 with a mission to encourage healthy living as part of its academics. This winter, principal and founder Ivan Tolentino removed chocolate milk from the menu this winter after his hyper-conscious kindergartners pointed out the red flags contained on its food labels. Nutrition is an important element of TALES’ academic curriculum.

“Our students’ levels of awareness regarding healthy living are so high, that students regularly stop us to point out ingredients listed in their foods’ labels that they regard as unhealthy,” said Tolentino, a former physical education teacher.

It was this kind of initiative that earned TALES and three other health-conscious New York City schools an official recognition from President Bill Clinton this week as one of the healthiest schools in the country.

Each school “distinguished itself with healthy eating and physical activity programs and policies that meet or exceed stringent standards” set by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which organized the contest.

At P.S. 123, in Bushwick, kindergartners take Yoga with their mothers; At P.S. 101 in Queens — known as The School in the Gardens — staff received health and wellness training during lunch hours, and at P.S. 238, in Midwood, young children learned how to prepare healthy foods in a hands-on cooking class.

School representatives attended a forum in Little Rock, Ark., hosted by Clinton, whose philanthropic organization founded the alliance.

“It was so inspiring to be at this forum,” said Christian Ledesma, a teacher at TALES who started a morning running group that eventually grew to 20 children.

The goal of the alliance is to reduce the national obesity rate, which hovers around 30 percent for children between 10 and 17.

But that rate increases dramatically in low-income communities, where one in three children is obese by the time they are 5 years old. Childhood obesity leads to high blood pressure and cholesterol and significantly increases the likelihood of developing heart disease and diabetes in adulthood. In three of the four healthy schools recognized by the alliance, including TALES, the large majority of students are eligible for free 0r reduced lunch.

Los Angeles became the country’s largest school district to enact a ban on flavored milks, which has gained traction in recent years. Flavored milk contains artificial sugars or high fructose corn syrup.

In New York City, the country’s largest school district, there were calls to ban flavored milk last year after Washington, D.C., approved a ban. The Department of Education’s Office of SchoolFood serves fat-free chocolate milk cartons that contain 22 grams of artificial sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.