Wellness policies set the tone for a school or district’s approach to wellness, creating a foundation for a healthy school day.
In the summer of 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued new guidance around wellness policies, requiring schools and districts to update their policies by June 30, 2017. Wellness policies must now include increased compliance measures, and standards for all foods served during the school day. The new guidance also outlines changes to how often schools must report on their progress and improves monitoring and evaluation protocols.
Rosa Parks Elementary School, part of the San Diego Unified School District, was well positioned for the changes, thanks in part to its work with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program. Rosa Parks takes an “all hands on deck” approach to school wellness, operating two wellness councils ‒ one organized by the nursing staff and one by parents. Each played a critical role in ensuring the new wellness policy would be well-received by the school community.
Kate McDevitt, wellness program supervisor for the district, led the process of aligning the wellness policy with the new guidelines from the USDA. Healthy Schools program manager Staci Boretzky shared Healthier Generation’s Model Wellness Policy with Kate, who used it as a guide to make the necessary changes. Kate then worked with a team of school leaders and parents from both wellness councils to support communication and implementation of the policy.
One of the biggest hurdles the school faced was adopting a healthy celebrations policy. Some parents were hesitant to do away with cupcakes for birthday celebrations, even after the school provided a suggested list of non-food rewards, such as stickers. School nurse Martha Bajet worked closely with the school’s principal to implement the policy at the start of the school year. Ana Gonzales, parent member of the school health and wellness council, was one of the first parents to champion the proposed policy. “I brought cups with erasers and pencils and decorated them for the kids. My daughter’s friends were very excited; none of the kids complained,” she said.
Ana is also the president of the parent-run wellness council, so she was well aware of the significance of the policy, and the need to lead by example. Martha is grateful to have parents like Ana on the committee who are elevating the importance of school health to the parent community. “Parents know that we are moving toward a healthier generation for the kids. Now, some parents are asking what they can do to help, and we have to teach them,” Ana said.
The school board unanimously approved the revisions to the wellness policy, including a provision for healthy celebrations, on July 25, 2017. The revised policy is slated to take effect on August 28, 2017, the district’s first day of school. That’s good news for the entire school community. “A healthy child is more apt to be ready to learn. Having a strong wellness policy will allow us to work with the school community, administration, parents to keep our kids healthy so that they can learn,” said Martha.
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