Workplace wellness is gaining traction in the US, and many school districts now recognize that the benefits accrue to school communities as well. In recent years, Santa Barbara County schools have made great strides toward becoming centers of health and wellness by paying greater attention to food preparation, hydration, physical activity, food literacy, garden-based learning, and workplace wellness. Children and adults spend a significant portion of each day on campus, and these hours can be spent in an environment that supports the development of good habits and limits exposure to negative influences, such as junk food.
As we prepare to retire the Orfalea Fund, the Orfalea Foundation has identified ten best practices in Santa Barbara County that we believe should be codified for each district through the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which is part of California’s new Local Control Funding Formula.
Most districts are eager to embed health and wellness practices in the LCAP, and we have been on a bit of a mission this year to help districts and schools articulate their commitments publicly through the LCAP.
Schools can and should be community beacons of health and wellness, but what does a beacon of health and wellness look like?
- The district’s Wellness Policy is customized to reflect the values of the school community. A synopsis of the Wellness Policy should be distributed to students, staff, and families at the beginning of the school year. At present, too many people are unaware of these policies.
- The district’s Wellness Committee meets regularly, and includes representatives from each school and a diverse set of stakeholders, including teachers, students, food service workers, administrators, and parents.
- Adults on campus set a good example in food and activity choices, as defined in the Wellness Policy.
- Fresh drinking water is always available in or near eating areas, and children are allowed access to water throughout the school day.
- Food literacy (basic understanding of the implications of food production, preparation and consumption) is part of the campus culture, in class, cafeteria and garden.
- Schools schedule recess before lunch, and students have at least twenty minutes of table time after being served school lunch.
- Student and adult consumers are treated respectfully and the cafeteria and dining areas are understood to be learning environments and places to build community.
- The cafeteria is set up to teach students to reduce, recycle, and compost, including a preference for durable dining ware over disposables where possible.
- As specified in the Wellness Policy, schools allow only healthy fundraisers and classroom celebrations, and do not use food as either punishment or reward.
- To the extent possible, all food served on campus is fresh, local, appealing, and prepared and served in an age-appropriate way (e.g., lettuce cut into bite-sized pieces).
One of the complex ironies of our campaign to focus schools on their health and wellness practices is the fact that schools and districts absolutely support the idea, but health and wellness seem like a far-away dream when districts are burdened with ever-changing curriculum standards, budgetary pressures, and increasingly contradictory community demands.
Yet student, staff, and family health support all of these other priorities*, so prioritization and accountability for health and wellness should be established in every campus culture. Both science AND intuition tell us that scratch-cooked real food is superior to highly processed heat-and-serve meals for its influence on physical development, classroom behavior, and learning ability. We also know that kids NEED physical activity and lots of it. We KNOW this. WE ALL KNOW THIS. Yet it has been a long and difficult struggle to secure commitment to real food and physical activity in schools, and to create an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice.
This is why we urge districts to include health and wellness commitments in LCAPs. Ultimately, the LCAP is a budgeting tool, and while vision and mission statements express hoped-for values, budgets express what is truly valued in practice. If we value the health and wellness of our students, teachers, staff, and community, we need to put it in writing and hold ourselves and each other accountable.
*For example, according to the Center for Ecoliteracy, “A University of Pennsylvania study estimated that obese students have 20 percent more absences. In another study, obesity was a better predictor of absenteeism than any other factor.”
Article by Dean Zatkowsky, Orfalea Foundation Communications Manager