Celebrating a New Wellness Policy in Hutchinson, Kansas
A wellness policy acts as an umbrella under which all other school wellness initiatives belong, such as nutrition standards and physical education practices. Beginning in 2004, Congress required all schools participating in federal child nutrition programs to create wellness policies. In July 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a final rule that further strengthened local wellness policies. Subsequently, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation updated its Model Wellness Policy template to align with the final rule. Here’s how one school leader used a local school wellness policy to create healthy changes for her district.
During the 2013-14 school year, Jennifer Tatro, director of nutrition services for Kansas’s Hutchinson Public School District, heard rumblings from principals about parents dropping off fast food in the lunchroom and students bringing candy from home. At the time, there was no policy to prevent this from happening, but school administrators noticed that it was distracting students and asked: what could they do?
Jennifer started a conversation with Superintendent Dr. Shelly Kiblinger the following August. “Our superintendent recognizes the impact that nutrition has on learning,” Jennifer said. “She gave us free range to find something that would work across all buildings.”
Along with a team of administrators, Jennifer began the process of updating the wellness policy. Through participation in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, she learned about the Alliance’s Model Wellness Policy. “It gave us somewhere to start – that’s the biggest advantage,” said Jennifer. “Why create something from nothing?”
Two years before the policy was revised, Hutchinson began piloting a new way to celebrate birthdays that didn’t involve a sugar rush or disruption from class time. When it was time to update the policy, they already had an idea of what would work well across the district.
“On the third Tuesday of every month, we now celebrate birthdays in the lunchroom. We set up a special table for birthday students and invite their parents to join them for lunch,” said Jennifer. “They’re given a special treat, such as a 100% juice cup.”
The new birthday practice proved to be a win-win: Parents like that they don’t have to worry about providing snacks for an entire class and administrators like having more time for instruction during the school day.
In June 2015, the school board approved the revised wellness policy, cementing the new way to celebrate birthdays for all schools in the district, in addition to eliminating food-based fundraisers during the school day and take-out meals in the cafeteria.
To ensure that everyone was aware of the changes, the district publicized the policy in a press release. It was also shared on the district website, during a presentation at the back-to-school meeting for staff, and through discussions at school wellness meetings.
“It’s important to start small and to have lots of people look at the policy before implementing it. It takes time to get everyone on board who will be instrumental in making it successful on a day-to-day basis,” she said. Then she added, “But it’s worth it.”