Students attending Public School No. 4 in West New York, N.J., received a special treat Tuesday afternoon as Jets tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson paid a visit to recognize the school as the winner of this year's Eat Right, Move More contest.
The Eat Right, Move More program, a partnership among the Jets, the Department of Agriculture and the American Dairy Association & Dairy Council's Fuel Up to Play 60 campaign, encourages New Jersey school children to take advantage of healthy foods in their school cafeterias and become more active. This year the emphasis was on schools that offer breakfast in the classroom.
Ferguson, now in his seventh year in the NFL, has been the Jets' spokesman with the program since 2006, his rookie season.
"It's been awesome," No. 60 said. "I think it's great that I had the opportunity to continue to talk to the kids. Every time I come out it's a different group, but the message stays consistent — talking about healthy living via eating well and exercise, which oftentimes comes through sports."
State secretary of agriculture Douglas Fisher told the students: "You really should be very proud of yourself for choosing to eat right. Your bodies need fresh foods and vegetables, milk and cheese, protein and whole grains. When you're in the lunch line, try to make the right choices, try to really think about what you're feeding your body, because it makes such a difference. It's hard sometimes at an early age, but as you get older and older, you'll realize that you'll be glad you made those right choices so you can grow strong and healthy."
The Jets presented a check for $5,000 that will help upgrade the school's salad bar and increase access to daily fruits and vegetables.
This wasn't the first time West New York Public School No. 4 has been recognized for its healthful initiatives. Previously, the school was presented with an award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation by former President Bill Clinton and last year was visited by television show host Rachael Ray.
"It says that a whole bunch of folks had to work together to be able to pull this off," Fisher said. "It's not just the kids. It's the teachers, it's the administrators, it's the cafeteria staff, it's the administration all pulling together in the theme, knowing that they're competing and trying to win, and they did."
As soon as Ferguson took the microphone, he thanked the school's lunch staff for its hard work. He then provided students a background of his journey to the NFL while also relating how he's always tried to eat healthy.
"My mother was a nurse," he said. "She talked about healthy eating and lifestyles as I was growing up. So when this opportunity came along to participate in this program, I felt like it was a natural fit. I give a lot of credit to my mother for that, and I get a chance to just continue to talk about the things that she always told me to do."
The auditorium where the program was held featured student-made "Go Jets" posters. But what seemed to impress Ferguson most was that breakfast was offered in classrooms.
"We didn't have breakfast in school when I was growing up," he said. "I think that's a plus. You guys are ahead of the curve."
The highlight of the day came during a Q&A session in which students were attempting to win Jets prizes by answering questions on information Ferguson had told them earlier. The questions were all being answered correctly until it was asked what position Ferguson played on the field.
"They kept saying offensive linebacker," Brick said, "and I was like, 'Ah, that's not what I do exactly.' So I was just encouraging them to say offensive lineman. But a kid even knew it more. He said left tackle. I felt proud that he was able to get the right answer."
Along with offering breakfast to its students, PS No. 4 also emphasizes increased physical activity with its Wake Up and Work Out Program, a one-hour exercise program twice a week.
"They're always up there in terms of the competition," Fisher said of the school system's involvement in the program, "because they get it and each year they try to further refine their program and they have great people that are involved with it."
The three-time Pro Bowler's final message to the students was one they'll surely hold onto.
"You guys like playing sports. You like eating well. So already, you guys are primed for success," Ferguson said. "I want to encourage you guys to do that. Be great in everything that you do." Six members of the school will attend the Jets' game on Sunday against Arizona. Then in the spring Jets players will visit the program's other four winning schools: Midstreams Elementary School in Brick Township, George L. Hess Educational Complex in Hamilton, William B. Cruse No. 11 School in Passaic, and Paterson Public School No. 2 in Paterson.