Conway High School teacher Leslee Tell works hard to obtain resources for her kitchen-style classroom. She's earned funds from the Food and Drug Administration, Baptist Health Medical Center and other organizations — all to help her students.

Eating right and establishing proper nutrition is hard — especially for young people.

So Leslee Tell is not afraid to ask for a little help.

Tell teaches advanced nutrition and dietetics at Conway High School. She says many young people are already dug in with a dislike for certain foods and it’s a challenge to open their minds to something good for them.

“It’s probably breaking the cycle that they’re in, that’s probably the hardest thing,” Tell says.

In her quest to find tasty and interesting ways to interest students in good nutrition, Tell has become something of a grant expert.

In addition to her Amazing Educator prize money, Tell has gotten funds from the Food and Drug Administration, Baptist Health Medical Center, even some money from the Silver Dollar City “Dream Big, Do Good” initiative in 2018.

She will spread the money around for classroom supplies and put some toward the courses and programs she has begun within the district and the Conway community, including a night course in cooking and finance for expecting teen parents.

“That’s kind of a really cool, fun thing,” Tell says.

Tell says she first taught home economics, then was a family consumer science teacher. But as awareness about nutrition has increased, such courses have evolved and become specialized.

She works or coordinates with Healthy Active Arkansas and the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, along with Baptist Health, which provides a clear picture of underlying problems stemming from obesity.

She says high school may be the most important battleground in fighting obesity by establishing good habits.

“Our last ditch chance is kind of high school,” Tell says. “If we don’t get them on board we probably won’t.”

Over the summer Tell was one of 15 educators selected to go to Washington, D.C., for an FDA food science program, a 10-day course heavy on science, which she is incorporating into her class.

Recently, Tell has put to work a grant to start an Advanced Dietetics and Nutrition program at Conway. Students “ladder up” from food safety and nutrition to food chemistry to an advanced dietics class that Tell describes as an “internship.”

The course includes a job usable certification recognized by the food and hospitality industry.

“This is our first year so this is a brand new program,” Tell says. “It’s only the second one in the state.”

Even Tell admits to indulging the lesser angels of her appetite from time to time, but she says that makes it more important to have a baseline of good nutrition so the occasional cheats don’t become bad habits.

And whether she’s indulging at a local restaurant or at the store stocking up for class, she says she is happiest when she bumps into her former students and gets to hear about how they’re doing.

Do you know a central Arkansas teacher who works hard every day to inspire his or her students to learn, reach goals and dream? Click here and nominate him or her for one of our 2020 Amazing Educator Awards!

See more of this year's Amazing Educators.