Senior students (from left) Mollie King, Allie Canoy, Jenni Knutson and Amber Helgeson organized Decorah High School’s participation in the “Go, Fight, Win with Chocolate Milk” contest sponsored by the Midwest Dairy Association. Because of their chocolate milk campaigning efforts, the school increased chocolate milk consumption and won a $10,000 grant. The students are pictured with Decorah High School principal, Kim Sheppard. (photo by Krista M. Sheehan)
Senior students (from left) Mollie King, Allie Canoy, Jenni Knutson and Amber Helgeson organized Decorah High School’s participation in the “Go, Fight, Win with Chocolate Milk” contest sponsored by the Midwest Dairy Association. Because of their chocolate milk campaigning efforts, the school increased chocolate milk consumption and won a $10,000 grant. The students are pictured with Decorah High School principal, Kim Sheppard. (photo by Krista M. Sheehan)
DECORAH, Iowa - Decorah High School principal, Kim Sheppard, has seen a lot more chocolate milk on trays during lunch time since the beginning of November. Much of the credit can be given to a milk drinking contest and the campaigning of four students.

Seniors Allie Canoy, Amber Helgeson, Mollie King and Jenni Knutson organized the school's participation in the "Go, Fight, Win with Chocolate Milk" contest sponsored by the Midwest Dairy Association. Because of the students' efforts and an increase in chocolate milk consumption, Decorah High School won the contest. As a grand prize, the school received a $10,000 grant to be used to improve the school wellness environment, a milk vending machine, three iPod touches and more than 600 ChocoNoGo plush creatures.

"We thought [increasing chocolate milk consumption] was an attainable goal because we're a pretty competitive school," Canoy said. "We're pretty proud of what our school can accomplish."

The contest, open to all high schools and middle schools in Iowa, had participating schools track chocolate milk consumption per student between Nov. 2 and Dec. 4. In order to top the 26 other schools participating, Decorah students consumed 62,289 units of chocolate milk, which averaged about three servings of chocolate milk per student, per day. Decorah High School has a student population of about 600.

At first, Sheppard wasn't going to enroll the school in the contest until the speech teacher who is also the track coach - approached the group of four seniors to use the contest for their persuasive speech assignment.

"We told her this is something we really want to do," Canoy said.

"We all love chocolate milk. During track and cross country we all drink it a lot. It's really good for you after you work out," King said.

The group needed to figure out how to motivate their peers and stay competitive with the other larger schools. They first organized a pep rally explaining the contest and the benefits of chocolate milk.

"Not everyone had known that chocolate milk after working out is so good at replenishing you. The studies show it's better than Gatorade. It was nice to get that word out through our pep assembly," Canoy said. "It's a great way to get calcium, too. It's not bad for you."

They also announced the prizes from Midwest Dairy Association; however, Canoy, Helgeson, King and Knutson came up with their own prizes to be given out to students who excelled in the contest: a designated parking spot for the rest of the semester, a lunch with Principal Sheppard with four friends to any restaurant in town, and a special spot at a sporting event for a student and one friend where they would also receive a pizza delivery.

"We knew we had to come up with a way to get everyone else in school fired up about doing this," Canoy said.

As reminders of the contest, the four seniors hung posters throughout the school and performed short commercials during announcements to tell students to drink chocolate milk.

The group also made it easier for students to buy chocolate milk by hosting "Chocolate Milk Mondays" during their 15-minute Channel One break.

"It's like in Kindergarten when you had snack time with graham crackers and milk. That's what we did," King said.

The four seniors organized groups of people to deliver milk during the school's 15 minute break.

"It was still charged to their lunch account, but it was available and people could take it if they wanted to," Helgeson said. "And they knew it was for the contest."

"It was a lot easier to bring it to them than them going on their own to get it [from the lunch room or the milk machine]," Knutson said.

Other student organizations created their own way to involve chocolate milk at their events. The National Honor Society changed their Hot Cocoa Social to a Chocolate Milk Social and the FFA served chocolate milk at the farewell they hosted for their student teacher.

"Everyone was generally interested and wanted to know how we were doing - even the teachers," King said.

When people around town heard about the contest, it became a community effort to help the school win. At sports team suppers, parents served chocolate milk to the student athletes and a local sports shop helped cover the cost of brown "Got chocolate milk?" t-shirts given out at the pep rally. A group of local dairy producers also bought chocolate milk for two of the Chocolate Milk Mondays. During those two days, the students did not have to pay for their milk.

"Everyone loved that," Canoy said.

With the efforts of the four seniors, the student body and the community, Decorah High School took the top spot in the contest and will have a visit from an NFL player at the end of the year to present their grand prize winnings.

A committee with student representatives - including Helgeson and Knutson - has been put together to decide how to spend the $10,000.

"We talk about the benefits [of each idea] and how it will help the most people instead of spending it just on one thing," Helgeson said.

So far, the committee is thinking about purchasing more kettle bells, more new physical education equipment and a workout library for students to check out videos and books.

"We try to think of things for kids not in sports, too. We want something fun for them to get them active," Knutson said.

All four agree the contest has made the student body more unified, pushing students to interact with people outside their social circles to win the competition. It has also made them more aware of their every day beverage choices.

"Before, I thought chocolate milk was not good for you. But after doing research and finding all the benefits of it, I drink it a lot more now," Canoy said.

The others agreed.

"It's gotten to be a habit for me now," King said. "I get a chocolate milk every day."

They've also seen other students make milk their beverage of choice.

"I see kids go to the milk machine after practices before getting a ride home or even just randomly throughout the day," Helgelson said. "I go down there to get milk in between classes."

Sheppard is happy she's been seeing more chocolate milk cartons. It's helped both the school and the students' wellness.