Excitement Builds Around a Healthy New School Year!

In February, 2014, the Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA set out to make a change in Clark, NJ and begin to combat the childhood obesity epidemic. To do this, the Y partnered with Saint John the Apostle School to implement strategies for policy change and to increase daily physical activity. Together we hoped to evoke a change by developing internal policies that provide guidance and support in achieving and sustaining a new culture.

We began by developing a team that would review current practices to determine where the challenges and obstacles lay, as well as options and solutions. Our team consisted of Y staff, Saint John’s faculty, and volunteers that are all experts including, a Registered Dietician, a CATCH Master Instructor, Physical Education teacher, the school Principal and a local food scientist/pharmacologist. Our team was able to hone in on what the real challenges were within the school, some of which included:

• Limited space for indoor activity
• Students are bringing their own lunches which sometimes contain unhealthy options
• Birthday celebrations that are often accompanied by unhealthy food options
• Lack of space outdoors for any type of traditional garden
• Limited time for recess coupled with high numbers of students, and
• A new challenge that arose from discussion was limited space and structure of the aftercare program

Guidelines demonstrate the school’s commitment to providing nutritious foods, encouraging consumption of fruits and vegetables, providing nutrition education, and providing opportunity to physical activity. However, while the school can promote nutrition and provide guidance, we also recognized that most children are bringing their own lunch and may not have a choice in exactly what they are eating. To provide support, workshops will be offered for parents on packing healthy lunches, and tips and resources will be posted on a regular basis on the St. John’s online “school notes” portal for parents to use as a reference. Students started on the right track with healthy snacking in May when workshops took place for the Preschool and Kindergarten classes, demonstrating that eating healthy can be fun and delicious!

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In an effort to promote physical activity, the school has been equipped with CATCH program equipment and training will take place for school faculty, parent volunteers and aftercare staff to implement CATCH activities during preschool, kindergarten and first grade recess periods as well as during the aftercare program.

Given the limited amount of outdoor space on school grounds, we came to the conclusion that a traditional garden may not be a viable option. This is when we were introduced to the Tower Garden, a self-contained, vertical, aeroponic garden that originated in Disney’s Epcot agricultural display in 2005. It will allow the students to grow their own fruits and vegetables and learn about eating healthier through the process. What’s most exciting is that everyone can play a part in the project as the growing process will be implemented into the curriculum, so that students can grow and harvest their very own crops.

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September should prove to be a very exciting time as new equipment; activities, support and guidelines are introduced to Saint Johns. We will begin the new school year with a celebration for students and their families, to be held at the Y on September 21!

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