by Dean Zatkowsky
The first of three panels held during the School Wellness Summit covered District Wellness Policies, as well as the goals behind them and the committees tasked with creating, revising, and implementing them.
Monica Scafide, who chairs the Santa Barbara Unified School District Wellness Council, opened the session, discussing the importance of customizing a wellness policy to reflect a District’s community values. (Here at the Orfalea Foundation, we have seen many Districts use boilerplate Wellness Policies, but a customized policy provides a more implementation-friendly route to improvement of student, faculty, staff, and community health.)
As Scafide explained, a customized policy becomes “the backbone and strength for creating a healthy learning environment for every child, every chance, every day.” A plan that addresses specific local needs provides a baseline for evaluating compliance and measuring and managing change over time. It also provides a clear standard of guidance to help individual schools make decisions locally.
Kathy Bertelsen, the Child Nutrition Services Manager at Lompoc Unified, provided a primer on Wellness Policy requirements, including USDA healthy food guidelines, promoting nutrition and activity, empowering school and community stakeholders to be involved in ongoing development of the Wellness Policy, and informing and updating the public on progress of the policy.
“Good nutrition and health affect any kind of performance. Athletic trainers and coaches stress optimal nutrition and healthy food choices to enhance athletic performance. This is also true for academic performance. Students who are not healthy or who are not eating healthfully will not be ready to learn.” – Kathy Bertelsen
Buellton parent Wendy Campbell discussed the importance of Wellness Committee goal setting, but first she explained how she ended up on the Wellness Committee. Some years ago, she and other parents had been advocating for changes on campus, but lacked an important element: money. So they inquired about assistance from the Orfalea Foundation, which stipulated two conditions: the District would need to form a Wellness Committee and eliminate flavored milk from campus.
She helped to form the committee and together they created a collection of goals. “Clear and specific goals focus and harness energy,” says Campbell. “They provide a clear target so you can spend less time talking about what you might do and more time actually making important changes to your school.”
But she is quick to point out: “Goals are not enough. You need action steps and accountability methods.” As an example, she cited the goal to “promote and offer healthy food and beverages and empower members of our educational community to make sound nutritional choices.” Of eleven action steps with clearly articulated deadlines, five were accomplished, albeit not as quickly as she would have liked:
- 1. Offer low-fat and nonfat milk and water for school lunch
- 2. Eliminate flavored milk
- 3. Install filtered water dispensers
- 4. Pilot recess before lunch program
- 5. Develop an organic garden to provide hands-on education and experience for students and produce for the kitchens.
Lompoc Unified Assistant Superintendent Sid Haro returned to the stage to explain how he works with school principals to make it easy for them to embrace and support the District’s Wellness Policy at the school level. Previously, Principal Forums were being used to share or repeat announcements that could have been covered in an email, but now Child Nutrition Services Manager Kathy Bertelsen attends the meetings and provides useful tools for improving student achievement and behavior. She provides turnkey curricula from Harvest of the Month and the principals have come to recognize her as a resource.
Santa Maria-Bonita School District Human Resources Coordinator Margaret Ontiveros wrapped up the panel with a discussion of Workplace Wellness, because a well-crafted Wellness Policy cannot be for students alone, but must include the entire campus community. Ontiveros was the District’s connection to Project-ACT, a pilot program to facilitate workplace wellness activities and culture.
Based on her own passion for exercise, Ontiveros began with “movement challenges” for her district, scaled to respect each worker’s individuality. With activities such as a Virtual Race Across America, Ontiveros and Project-ACT engaged a surprising number of employees: “Last year, 2/3 of our employees adopted a new healthy practice and over 600 people participated in our movement challenges.” This year, the District is focused on stress reduction, and we look forward to hearing her report at next year’s summit.
One interesting outcome of the District’s Workplace Wellness initiative is that surveyed employees perceive the District as a healthy workplace that cares about its employees. Perhaps more interesting is the effect on students and families, who have witnessed teachers participating in Zumba classes and wondered if they could join in too.
Project-ACT leader Seth Nickinson responded to the attendees’ enthusiasm for Workplace Wellness programs by creating a new “Schools Start Here” portal on the Project-ACT website, which you can see by clicking HERE.
Obsessed as we are with schools serving as community beacons of health and wellness, it was exciting to hear others recognize the transformative power of a well-crafted Wellness Policy and an engaged Wellness Committee.
In Part 3 of this series, we’ll hear about the second panel of the day, which discussed “The Impact of Wellness Policies on Student Achievement.” We’ll also hear from Congresswoman Lois Capps, who made it clear that a former school nurse can get very excited about campus health and wellness.
Dean Zatkowsky is Communications Manager at the Orfalea Foundation.