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Sand Hill students hear back from nations first lady
Melissa Osteens class
Melissa Osteens fifth-grade students at Sand Hill Elementary School received a letter from the White House after writing to first lady Michelle Obama regarding changes that have been made to their school lunch menus. - photo by Photo provided

Some fifth-grade students at Sand Hill Elementary School wanted to voice their opinion about changes that have been made to their school lunches.

So they went straight to the top.

Students in Melissa Osteen’s class wrote to first lady Michelle Obama about the changes, which resulted from the adoption of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The statute, a key initiative of the first lady’s fight against childhood obesity, was signed into law by President Obama in 2010.

To the students’ surprise, they heard back from the first lady.

Obama sent a letter on White House letterhead, thanking the students for contacting her about the new school lunch guidelines.

“This is a really important issue, and I’m so glad you took the time to share your thoughts and opinions with me,” the letter began.

The modifications school lunch programs have made to the content and nutritional value of students’ meals include reducing the number of treat and reward foods. Items such as ice cream, candy bars and donuts now count against the 30 exemptions schools receive each year if they do not meet the Smart Snack Guidelines. Many schools that used to give treats as incentives and sold ice cream on Fridays for fundraisers had to revamp those choices.

In response, Osteen’s students asked what they could do to voice their feelings about the various changes to school lunches and the ice cream choices.

“I explained to them that living in a democratic society, we have the freedom of speech, and because of this we are able to voice our opinions,” Osteen said. “I also explained that in order for someone to listen to your opinion, you must research your topic and present your opinion in an intelligent and respectful way.”

Her students did just that. They researched the Healthy Child and Let’s Move initiatives before writing letters to the first lady expressing their concerns and opinions about the school lunches.

Six weeks later, the students were rewarded with a response from Obama. The students were overwhelmed with excitement and disbelief. Several students said, “We never thought you would actually mail our letters,” while others said, “We didn’t think she would actually read them and write us back.”

“I want you to know we are listening to what you and other students across our country are saying,” Obama’s letter stated.

The letter ended with best wishes for continued success and included pictures of the first family and their pets.

Sand Hill Principal Kristen Richards was pleased that Osteen’s lesson to the children was validated by such an outcome as the White House’s response.

“It demonstrated to the students that there is a thoughtful way to approach a situation in order to get results,” Richards said. “Mrs. Osteen linked the student’s learning to a stand-out authentic experience.”