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First Ladys team judges Cowell recipe
Joshua Cowell School students and teachers celebrate the winners in the butternut squash game as part of the entertainment held in conjunction with the judging of the schools winning recipe, the Central Valley Harvest Bake, on Tuesday - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

They danced the Hokey Pokey.

They tripped the light fantastic to the tune of “The Cupid Shuffle.”

They even played with their food.

But it remains to be seen whether all that fabulous jazz will earn the Joshua Cowell Elementary School extra points from the judges of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Recipes for Healthy Kids competition who visited the campus on Tuesday to watch the food being prepared, eyeball the result, and then taste-test it.

One of the three judges, Ann Hall who is a nutritionist with the United States Department of Agriculture, even joined the students who gave their own performance of the popular children’s song, Hokey Pokey, which they parodied by substituting some of the words with the names of the ingredients that were used in their winning recipe, the Central Valley Harvest Bake.

Hall said Joshua Cowell is already a winner for being selected one of the 15 finalists selected from a total of 340 recipes entered in the competition. It’s this distinct honor which earned the judges’ visit to the school that lasted the whole morning. It started with the judges meeting the five-member Recipe Challenge team that worked on the recipe which features the butternut squash, a valley staple, as the main ingredient. The judges then watched the team members as they prepared the menu and demonstrated the cooking of the entrée.

The other two judges were SFC Rene J. Marquis, a certified executive chef and culinary educator – among other titles – who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and Helen Phillips who has 19 years of experience under her belt in school nutrition.

Hall said the recipes are being judged on taste and flavor, appearance, creativity, originality and appeal to the students. She added that cash prizes totaling $12,000 will be awarded to the Grand Prize winner as well as the second- and third-place finishers. The Popular Choice Award, given to the recipe that garners to most number of votes online, will receive $1,500. To cast your vote on Joshua Cowell’s Central Valley Harvest Bake, or any of the contest finalists, log on to

Five recipes were selected in each of three categories in the recipe contest: whole grains, dry beans and peas, and dark green and orange vegetables.  Joshua Cowell’s recipe was entered in the last category. The cooking team was composed of Joshua Cowell cook Sharon Bright, main kitchen operator Rosalie Teicheira, Sierra High School culinary arts student Cameron H, Modesto chef Bryan Ehernholm of the Lunch and Paul & Pure Joy Bakery in Modesto, and former MUSD nutrition services director Mary Tolan Davi.

After the judging in the school cafeteria, all of the K-8 students as well as faculty, parents and other guests gathered in the quad for a rollicking and inspirational program. The students and their teachers entertained the judges and the Recipe Cooking Team with their dance numbers, a competitive game featuring the butternut squash, and finally, by the dedication of the two peace poles on campus which were unveiled by longtime school volunteers Paul and Marla Anderson who just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Joshua Cowell Principal Bonnie Bennett explained that the Peace Poles on campus are “part of an international Peace Pole project that began in Japan in 1955 in response to the atomic bomb” that were dropped at Nagasaki and Hiroshima during World War II. She said there are 200,000 Peace Poles today all over the world.

“Peace begins in the heart and mind of each of us. Build peace one person at a time, one family at a time,” Bennett told the students.

Written on the four sides of each of the two Peace Poles is the message, “May Peace prevail on earth,” in eight different languages.