There is something about salads that kids love to hate.
"I hate the salad dressing," said Roy Sanchez, a 7-year-old second-grader.
"I don't like the purple vegetables that is in them," said classmate Jessica Corrales about the shredded cabbage.
But something out of the ordinary recently happened at Juarez Elementary School in Cerritos, where Sanchez and Corrales are students.
Most of the students actually ate their lunch salads and some actually enjoyed them.
Some kids were even observed eating two salads.
"I did it for the stamp," Corrales said. Sanchez said she also ate her salad for the stamp.
The stamp? The youngsters meant the green-ink stamp of the creature known as the "Salad Gator."
Last week the Salad Gator, a person dressed in an alligator suit, crawled about the 650-student campus as part of a promotion to get students to eat their salads. Students who ate their salads at lunch had their hands stamped with the likeness of a green alligator.
Meanwhile, Norma Roberts, director of food services of the ABC Unified School District, visited classrooms to talk about the importance of salads and other foods that are "necessary to grow up to be strong and healthy."
The students were also given a tour of the Cerritos central kitchen of the Food Services Department, where 10,000 meals, including the salads, are prepared daily.
Salad Gator and the other programs are part of a pilot project to promote health and fitness among students, especially those in the lower grades.
The three-year pilot project, called the Comprehensive Health Education and Training Program, was created this year by Bill Honig, state Superintendent of Schools. Six school districts are participating, including two in the Los Angeles area--ABC and Beverly Hills Unified School District. Each district was budgeted $50,000 for the first year. With the theme "Healthy Kids: Healthy California," the program consists of expanded health services for students as well as physical and nutritional education.
"Several national studies document that educational achievement can be improved by programs that favorably influence eating habits, promote exercise, and counteract drug abuse and stress-related behaviors," Honig said in a letter to the ABC district.
The entire school participated in the salad promotion, but most of the Juarez effort will concentrate on the third and fifth grades, with about 250 students. Starting the project with the elementary students will help establish a "healthy life style," said Judi McEvers, principal at Juarez.
Most elementary school districts in the state do not have physical education teachers, McEvers said, but the pilot project allowed ABC to hire a physical education teacher to operate the program.
"We know that many adults belong to health spas but their kids are out of shape," said Sandy Blazer, who was hired to teach physical education at Juarez.
"I found 90% of the students could not do pullups, 10% had hypertension and they average 14 minutes for the mile run," said Blazer, 25. "By the end of this year, I hope to have them averaging around 10 minutes for the mile."
Students found to have hypertension or high blood pressure were thoroughly checked and their parents contacted immediately, Martin said.
Classroom instruction on health is being given by a nurse who is on the Juarez campus five days a week. Before the program, the nurse came to campus only two days a week. The nurse also gives the blood-pressure screening tests and will test for blood cholesterol.
Two other schools in the district, Tetzlaff Junior High and Artesia High School, are participating in the project on a limited scale, said Kay Martin, ABC employee health and fitness coordinator. Those students are receiving additional instructions in their health and physical education classes.
"The main thing," Martin said, "is to motivate students--motivate them to be healthy."
While the Salad Gator helped put across the message for November, which was designated as Salad Month, Martin said the district is still working on a gimmick for December: Whole Wheat Bread Month.