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Schools address wellness program

(June 20, 2014) County public schools will be ramping up its health and wellness program.

The Board of Education during its Tuesday meeting passed revisions to its Health and Wellness Policy — one that has been in place since 2006 — addressing students’ nutrition and physical activity, staff wellness and other school-based activities aimed to promote health. The revised policy also includes provisions to monitor those programs and their effects.

“Everybody needs to be aware of making healthy choices,” said Board Member Douglas Dryden. “This is a life-long lesson that can be learned in our schools.”

The changes are updates to a previous policy, which focused only on nutrition and physical activity, said Tamara Mills, director of health programs at Worcester schools.

“The state and the federal regs have noticed that there are a lot more people involved in students’ health than just the phys ed teachers and food services,” she said.

Because the schools already had such a policy in place, the changes will be subtle, she said. “It’s not going to be major differences in terms of the way things are now.”

Under the new guidelines, schools will promote healthy eating by following the Healthy, Hungry Free Kids Act of 2010.

“This will help to guide us in terms of what we serve to students in the cafeteria, what we sell (and) the ingredients in our food,” Mills said.

The schools will also focus on nutritional education programs in both health and science classes, she said, and the new regulations shrink schools’ ability to advertise junk food on campus.

Another policy focus is physical activity and education. The new rules aim to raise active time in the gym to at least 60 percent with the remainder allotted for health classes, for example, Mills said.

The schools will work to better promote activities outside of class that focus on health, such as ACES (All Children Exercise Simultaneously) and Jump Rope for Heart.

To ensure the updated policy is effective, the schools will create an action plan and rubric to be overseen by a Health and Wellness Committee at each school.

“We want to make sure that the things that our schools are enacting are, in fact, effective,” Mills said. “We’re going to evaluate the effectiveness of those actions.”

Board Member Sara Thompson expressed concern that the new policy could drive children away from school cafeterias, however.

“Pretty soon, they’re going to have it so nobody buys cafeteria food,” she said. “They’re taking the salt away, they’re taking everything away.”

But Mills said the shifts to healthier lunches will be “a slow transition” to help students adjust. There will also be some exceptions, such as for students whose parents bring in treats on their birthdays, she said.

“There are changes that we have to make,” Mills said.

The updates come in the wake of other health programs, such as a pilot project to implement health literacy education into the daily curriculum of second grade students at Ocean City Elementary School.

“I’m pleased to see this policy coming forward,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson. “I know that it’s inconvenient at times, but I also believe it is the right thing to do.”

He will be charged with developing procedures to meet the new policy’s standards.

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