MEXICO – Mountain Valley Middle School is one of the top 10 healthiest schools in the country, according to Health magazine.

In its Aug. 26 edition, the national magazine gave top grades to 10 public schools for building healthy bodies and minds.

Mountain Valley Middle School came in at No. 5. It made the list because the school:

• Provides students with breakfast on school days;

• Serves only healthy lunches;

• Offers all students ways to stay physically active; and

• Teaches students how to get and stay healthy.

The average American child spends nearly 12,000 hours in school from kindergarten to grade 12, a time when good or bad habits develop, the magazine said.

“Based on our research, top schools had really good nutrition policies and have cut back on fried and fatty foods. That’s important,” Health magazine editorial assistant Britney Tingle said.

Schools that topped the magazine’s list also offered physical education throughout the day and had created ways to get students active in classrooms so they weren’t sitting down all day, Tingle said.

Mountain Valley Middle School, which has 320 students in grades six through eight, takes advantage of its close access to nature and gets kids moving with mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking and moonlight snowshoe walks, according to the magazine.

Other healthiest schools named by the magazine are in New York, Florida, Mississippi, Wyoming, Kansas, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee.

Mountain Valley Middle School Principal Ryan Casey said the award did not reflect the healthiness of students or staff. The school won for its policies and leadership encouraging healthy habits.

“In this little, rural community we show young people that you can be healthy with limitations,” he said. Educators show students how to take advantage of what they have.

The school offers free breakfast every morning and it doesn’t serve pizza, burgers and chicken nuggets for lunch. “We try to set a high standard of food from a variety of food groups,” Casey said.

Another “biggie” is four full-time health educators: two physical education teachers, a health educator and a family consumer science teacher.

Students take physical education classes three times a week. Gym classes offer the typical volleyball and other games. Students who are not into group sports can play an interactive video game that gets participants dancing. Other students use treadmills or stationary bikes.

“Every single child is physically active,” Casey said.

David Stockford, a Maine Department of Education official who oversees health education, said he was not surprised to learn that the Mexico school was cited among the top 10 healthiest.

SAD 43, which includes Rumford and Mexico, “has done outstanding work” in giving children information, improving the variety and quality of food and getting students active, Stockford said.

Health magazine editorial assistant Britney Tingle said the 10 schools were chosen after the magazine received nominations from state education departments.

Each school principal was asked to fill out a questionnaire about their nutrition, exercise, health and wellness practices and policies, Tingle said.

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