Elizabeth Schools Recognized For Creating Healthy Culture

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ELIZABETH — On Tuesday, June 15, seven Elizabeth public schools were recognized for their efforts to promote a healthy culture within the school community. They received a national recognition award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a non-profit group founded in 2005 by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity.

The following schools earned recognition for their hard work creating a culture where healthy eating and daily physical activity are the norm.

  • Abraham Lincoln School #14
  • Charles J. Hudson School #25
  • Dr. Albert Einstein Academy School #29
  • Monsignor Joao S. Antao School #31
  • Ronald Reagan Academy School #30
  • Terence C. Reilly School #7
  • Toussaint L’Ouverture-Marquis de Lafayette School #6

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After joining the Healthy Schools Program this year, the staff at Abraham Lincoln School #14 immediately started working to build their school wellness council, complete their Inventory and develop an action plan. The school wellness council decided first to focus on employee wellness, realizing that once school staff was on board with making healthy changes, the students would soon follow. Just as predicted, the efforts of the school wellness council have expanded to now include a focus on student health.

Collaboration has been one of the keys to success realized by the school wellness council. Working closely with school food service staff has resulted in a swift elimination of whole milk, soda and sports drinks, replacing those options with low-fat milk, water and 100% fruit juice. Another collaborative effort has brought the art and technology teachers together for a single cause. Students research nutrition related topics in their technology classes then produce colorful educational posters that now hang in the nurse’s office. The school uses JAMmin’ Minutes to increase the availability of physical activity and additional health education is also now available to the students at Abraham Lincoln School.

In October 2009, Charles J. Hudson School #25 Principal Dora Kuznitz attended a Healthy Schools Program training and was inspired to bring this program to her school. A school wellness council was created and after conducting an assessment of their needs and developing an action plan using the Healthy Schools Builder, the council began implementing several positive changes that have been well-received by staff and students. A few of the changes include removal of non-compliant foods based on the Alliance Competitive Foods Guidelines, offering fitness opportunities during recess and afterschool programs, as well as staff wellness programs focused on physical activity.

“Over the past five months, we have seen steady changes in our behaviors and attitudes toward healthy living. The Charles J. Hudson School #25 family is conscience of caloric intake and the need to exercise daily,” offers Kuznitz. The continued commitment of students and staff is evident in their willingness to continue making changes and supporting each other in a fun, safe and healthy school environment!

Realizing the importance of educating the whole child as well as encouraging a healthy staff, Dr. Albert Einstein Academy’s vice-principal, Yvonne McGovern, was instrumental in establishing a school wellness council as well as encouraging students and staff to take part in an assessment of their school environment. The wellness council discovered there were two areas to focus their efforts: staff wellness and competitive foods and beverages. To start, all beverages were analyzed to ensure they are now compliant with the Alliance School Beverage Guidelines and the Healthy Schools Product Calculator was used to determine which compliant snacks to sell.

With staff and students eating healthier, they moved on to look at physical activity. Activities such as JAMmin’ Minutes, the Mix-It-Up Lunch, urban line dancing, Family Dance Night, trike-a-thon, staff kickboxing and circuit training, as well as the Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser were introduced. McGovern concludes, “We fully recognize it takes a village to raise a child and accept the responsibility that one must teach others to make a healthy change in their lives.”

Starting the day off with a healthy breakfast is an important initiative that the wellness council at School 31 offers its staff once a month. Their first “Eat This, Not That” breakfast  where staff were treated to a yogurt and granola station, fresh fruit, whole grain bagels and a variety of spreads was a great success.. Staff reported back that they were very impressed with the food and the health tips, recipes and literature they received.

The healthy breakfast was the first of many changes made after completing their staff wellness interest survey. Since then they have also started a walking program, aerobics and have helped individuals create personal fitness plans. The school will also be distributing a number of Be Well books to all parents in the fall when they kick off the JAMmin’ Minute program to get everyone in the school moving more every day.

“The Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program has brought us face to face with daily choices. Almost immediately we had an organizational meeting and began working with the Alliance to produce a plan of action aimed at healthy decision-making for the future of our school and the entire community,” offers Maryanne Graham, health and physical education teacher at Ronald Reagan Academy School #30. When the school first joined the Healthy Schools Program, they were nervous about facing some of the action steps but they decided that they needed to press forward, one change at a time. Several successful programs evolved over the school year such as Walking Wednesdays, Salad Thursdays, Healthier Snack Day, and Dance Disco.

The wellness council has been very resourceful in working with community organizations to support their efforts and accessing local and national resources. The wellness council ordered Be Well books, created by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, to hand out to families to help get them involved. Graham continues, “We have miles to walk before we sleep, but we are moving in the right direction.”

At Terence C. Reilly School #7 the school wellness council feels it is their responsibility to provide opportunities for their students and staff to develop and maintain healthy lifestyles. With that philosophy in mind, the wellness council set out to create programs that provide a variety of health promoting activities and options for their entire school community.

One option they have introduced allows for students to come to school early two days a week to participate in a school jogging club. A new after school program encourages students to stay active while exploring new types of cooperative and sport-related activities. During all activities, the school consistently talks to their students and staff about the importance of nutrition and the value of making healthy food choices. The students and staff enjoy every minute of staying physically active and learning about ways to eat healthier together.

Last year, Toussaint L’Ouvertrure-Marquis de Lafayette School No. 6 got on the path to becoming a healthier school community. Its newly formed wellness council composed of staff, students and parents conducted a survey to solicit ideas for new wellness activities and, based on the response, it launched an array of new programs. For staff, there was a weight loss contest, a lunchtime walking group and yoga classes. Students participated in a Jump Rope for Heart program and a new before school exercise class led by a physical education teacher.

Next year, the committee plans to expand these efforts to include a Wii Fit program and/or a weight lifting class and expand before and afterschool fitness programs. While many of the current offerings were implemented at no cost to the school or at a very low cost, the school will seek grants to fund additional programs that promote healthy eating habits, active bodies and a calm spirit.


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