Thursday, January 5, 2006

White takes importance of healthy living to children

Staff Writer

Sharon White excites students about nutrition and physical fitness.

White joined the Mississippi State Extension Service as Marshall County’s Nutrition Educator for the Family Nutrition Program (FNP) in February 2003. Since then White has provided hundreds of lessons or seminars about nutrition to community groups and school children.

Marshall County Extension Agent Janet Jolley, who works with White on a daily basis, said enthusiasm is what makes White an exceptional teacher.

“Sharon has been a very positive influence in our schools and community,” Jolley said. “She has taken her enthusiasm for healthy living and shared it with over 1,000 students every year. Each month she is challenged to present 50 programs to both adults and youth.”

White focuses on the importance of keeping a low-fat diet, exercise, and the development of MyPyramid, a device used to remember food groups needed for a balanced diet.

But what stands out most about White, Jolley said, is her love for children.

“That shows in Sharon’s caring manner as she teaches them to live healthier lives,” said Jolley. “Our school teachers also love her presentations and have spoken of the changes they have seen in their students after the program. Students are eating more fruits and vegetables.

“Sharon loves to teach, she loves nutrition, and she loves children. What a combination to teach our children how to live the healthiest life they can live!”

The family nutrition program provides nutritional education to any public school with over 50 percent participation in the free/reduced lunch program. The program is funded through a cooperative agreement between the Mississippi Department of Human Services, the United States Department of Agriculture and Mississippi State University Extension Service, the program administrator.

As nutrition educator, White provides nutrition classes for the Holly Springs School District and Marshall County School District where she teaches the food pyramid and food safety, required classroom courses for grades K-12.

White also is actively involved in other community service projects. She has served on the boards of the Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Institute of Community Services and is a former director of the Holly Springs Business Development Center (business incubator).

“She is an enthusiastic teacher and all the kids love it,” said Mamie Byers, parent center coordinator at the primary school. “She gets them involved.”

White said she was born to teach. She knew that as a youngster because she always wanted to be the teacher when she played school with her brothers and sisters.

Born in Chicago, White has had a varied career.

For nine years she travelled for Compuware in the United States and Canada teaching program debugging software for mainframe computers.

White lived in California while travelling for Compuware then transferred to the Atlanta office and was in charge of the east coast and Canada.

“I travelled a lot and had lots of fun,” she said.

White’s interest in nutrition was born out of a desire to help her mother manage her diabetes, she said.

Upon retiring from Compuware and marrying Lawrence White, she decided to take a rather large bonus she received from the company to open a healthfood store.

“With that, it opened up a lot of doors to go to churches and teach nutrition in Atlanta,” she said. “It (the health food business) just kind of took off by itself.”

White sold her health food store to move with her husband, a professional photographer with roots in Holly Springs and Memphis.

Most of what she has learned about nutrition she got from reading books and talking to people, she said.

At the school, White emphasizes exercise and healthy eating habits. In teaching adult classes, nutrition often involves helping people eat healthy to lose weight and manage diabetes, two prominent health concerns which are connected and prevalent in Mississippians.

White said her mother’s diabetes did improve by reducing sugars from the diet, eliminating breads and substituting crackers, and with the use of enzyme supplements to aid digestion.

“I realized other people were sick, too,” said White.

White cast about for direction when she relocated in Holly Springs, working for a while as director of the Business Development Center (Incubator) and as a contributing writer for The South Reporter and the Chronicle. She also hosted two radio programs - “Straight Talk Live” and a Sunday gospel music program - for Rust College’s WURC-FM.

Three years ago White joined MSU Extension Service as a nutrition educator.

She visits seven schools and puts most of her time in elementary and middle school classes. Each school gets at least one visit a month but more classes were added by request at the Holly Springs Primary School.

White said the incidence of childhood obesity and Type II diabetes is on the rise.

“With the younger group we are trying to educate them to make smarter choices,” she said.

She teaches children to read the label.

“Read it before you eat it” is a slogan used in the classroom.

White said USDA released new dietary guidelines in April which emphasizes dietary habits and exercise.

At least half the grains consumed (cereal, bread, pasta, rice) should be whole grain products, she said. Dark green and dark orange vegetables are preferred over the lighter greens and yellows because of the vitamin content. That means that broccoli, spinach, kale, sweet potatoes and carrots are rich in necessary vitamins.

“We try to teach that meat is good - about 5.5 ounces a day - but eggs, beans and nuts are good substitutes,” White said.

She said she loves Holly Springs.

“Actually, what I like is the people,” she said. “I like the friendliness of the town, even though I meet people who live here who don’t like Holly Springs.

“Compared to Atlanta, with a lot of traffic problems, it’s a nice place to live,” she said. “It’s different for me being born in Chicago. I enjoy waking up to the animals and taking one day at a time. It is not as stressful and at my age, I do like it.”

White has found a home church where she can have lots of one-on-one time with the sisters and brothers.

“I have a pastor and first lady who live a clean life and are balanced. They know how to teach and are a positive role model for the community. So we are enjoying his (Pastor Joseph Selman and wife Tina) vision for the community,” she said. “They know who Sharon really is.”

For information on nutrition or nutritional programs contact White at the Extension office at 662-252-3541.

She is working to complete her bachelor’s in elementary education and is classified as a junior at Ole Miss.

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