MIDDLESEX COUNTY — Health has been on the minds of students and staff in the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School District as they participate in a grant program aimed at achieving academic success through better nutrition and more physical activity.
Under a federal Centers for Disease Control grant through the state Department of Health and Senior Services, four schools in the MCVTS district have initiated programs to promote the physical, emotional and social well-being of students.
“There is a lot of evidence that there is a relationship between health education and academic achievement,” said Kristen Schiro, a school health specialist for EmPower Somerset, which is administering the grant program in Middlesex and Somerset counties.
“The whole point of this grant is tying health to success,” she said. “Healthy living lowers absenteeism and leads to success in school.”
In the second year of a three-year program, the participating schools – the MCVTS East Brunswick, Piscataway, Perth Amboy and Woodbridge campuses – have undertaken a school health index survey to identify which of eight CDC “components of coordinated school health” should be emphasized in action plans.
For example, Schiro said, on the East Brunswick campus, students are being encouraged to train for 5K races to improve physical activity and a newsletter written by students is being sent home with report cards to increase family and community involvement in health issues.
The Woodbridge campus, which houses the Middlesex County Academy for Allied Health and Biomedical Sciences, will be conducting a week of health programs May 7-11, including a community health fair May 9, and the entire student body will be taking a walk to the park to promote healthier physical activity.
The program involves creation of school health teams composed of staff members, parents and other community representatives, as well as youth advisory councils composed of students.
In Piscataway, the youth advisory council meets weekly to practice skits on health issues such as drug and alcohol abuse and body image that are performed in front of classes.
The students on the advisory councils will be participating in an all-day team-building exercise May 8 at Camp Bernie in Lebanon Township. Staff members will meet May 24 to discuss sustaining the initiative beyond the three years of the grant.
A number of nonprofit community organizations have partnered with EmPower Somerset in the effort, including the Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation, Rutgers Cooperative Extension and the Women’s Health and Counseling Center.