Toughing it out through the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, students in two Long Beach Island elementaries win prizes, banners and certificates for maintaining good nutrition and physical activity.

(L to R): Arleen Ramos-Szatmary, NJDA; Jacobsen School Principal Fran Meyer; LBI Schools Superintendent/LBI Grade School Principal Karen McKeon; Steve Bergonzoni, USDA (NJ Dept. of Agriculture)

Youngsters of Long Beach Island Grade School in Ship Bottom and Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary in Surf City achieved the  Bronze level of the Healthier US School Challenge Award through the U.S. and New Jersey Departments of Agriculture.

In addition to the decorations and documents, they won a $500 prize.

Schools that undertake the Challenge are in the National School Lunch Program. The goal is to help students form sensible approaches to nutrition and physical exercise and continue them for their lives. Only 68 schools in New Jersey succeeded in the program created by First Lady Michelle Obama in her Let's Move! initiative.

Long Beach Island Grade School has been under repair since last October's storm. Since then, the third-through-sixth graders have been sharing space with the K-through-second graders in the Jacobsen school.

"Superstorm Sandy took a toll on these two Long Beach Island schools but they have continued to offer healthy choices in their cafeteria, rebuilt their garden and provided community nutrition education," said Arleen Ramos-Szatmary, Coordinator of School Nutrition Programs for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, who encouraged them to continue.

Schools Superintendent Karen McKeon says they embarked on a community education campaign and created a "Choose MyPlate" that illustrates the five basic food groups.

"With obesity levels on the rise, we have been encouraging nutritious foods, physical activity and consuming fresh fruits and vegetables by following the MyPlate guidelines," said McKeon.  "Our goal is that because of these efforts, students will live a fuller and healthier life with these elements at the forefront."

In collaboration with the Sodexo food service vendor, the district includes Jersey Fresh produce and crops from the school garden that was rebuilt after the storm with help from school volunteers and students from Monsignor Donovan High School in Toms River.

McKeon says they'll use the cash prize to improve their all-terrain area and install a garden gate or a sprinkler.

It's the second thrill for the LBI Grade Schoolers in less than a month. They visited President Barack Obama at the White House, where they helped the First Lady harvest veggies from her garden and baked a healthy pizza.

For more information on the Healthier US School Challenge, visit the portal on the USDA web page.