Students developing a taste for fresh fruit

PELION -- Fourth-grader Shayne Davis was shocked when he bit into the pomegranate seed. Expecting to grimace, he put it in his mouth anyway, because the color reminded him of apples. He decided it was yummy.

"I never even knew there was such a fruit," the 10-year-old said recently, while munching on orange slices in his classroom.

Shayne says he's willing to try any of the fresh fruit and vegetables handed out daily to him and the more than 800 students at his rural school. Pelion Elementary is part a federal program meant to curb hunger and expose students in high-poverty schools across the nation to fresh or dried produce many don't get at home.

With childhood obesity on the rise, officials hope students become accustomed to reaching for healthy options, even ones they've never seen before, instead of chips or a candy bar. In South Carolina, 36 percent of children ages 10 to 17 are overweight or obese, ranking it among the five worst states, according to the National Survey of Children's Health.

"What we're really hoping is, long-term it turns around their whole thinking about what is a nutritional snack. A nutritional snack does not have to be something, ew, yucky. It could be really good," said Principal Catherine Hodge.

Pelion Elementary is among 34 elementary schools in South Carolina selected for the federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. It launched in 2002 as a pilot project in four states and an Indian tribe. This year, all 50 states and the territories will share $49 million -- spending between $50 and $75 per child, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service division.