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!


A Healthy Approach to the new School Year

A new school year at Saint John the Apostle School in Clark is almost here and exciting new things are in store! In addition to introducing new guidelines around nutritional choices and physical activity, new tools including training and equipment will be provided for the teachers and volunteer parents to implement activities and learning opportunities to engage the students throughout the day including recess, physical education classes and the aftercare program.

Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) trainings for the preschool, kindergarten, first grade teachers, and parent volunteers are being scheduled to prepare for the new school year. By taking part in the training, they will be better equipped to maintain activity levels, keeping the students engaged and having fun. The equipment that will be provided for the school will enable the teachers and volunteers to conduct activity both on the playground and indoors, especially when space is limited and challenging.

On the nutritional frontier, parent volunteer, Laura Rokosz will be introducing a tower garden to the school (www.towergarden.com). These self-contained, vertical, aeroponic gardens will allow the students to grow their own fruits and vegetables and learn about eating healthier through the process. The creator, Tim Blank, originally implemented this gardening system in Epcot Center’s, Living with the Land pavilion. It is a great option for Saint John’s because of the limited amount of space available to establish a full garden.

With all of these exciting new things happening, it’s important that we kick off the school year the right way. What better way to do so than having the YMCA and Saint John’s team up to offer a family day at the YMCA in mid-September with swim and activity time along with healthy snacking!

Tower Garden to be placed at Saint Johns

Tower Garden to be placed at Saint Johns


Tower Gardens in bloom!

Our committee: From left to right, Sister Donna Marie O'Brien O.P., Teresa Lyp, Tracy Crane, Shannon Frank, Laura Rokosz, Donna Peart

Our wellness committee. From left to right: Sister Donna Marie O’Brien O.P., Teresa Lyp, Tracy Crane, Shannon Frank, Laura Rokosz, Donna Peart


Laying the Plans for a Healthy School Year in Clark

As the school year has come to an end, the summer yields time to focus laying plans for the upcoming school year. A team of YMCA staff, parent volunteers and faculty will make use of the valuable “down” time to really hone in on the best ways to support Saint John the Apostle School in providing guidelines for healthy eating and physical activity for all student from Preschool to eighth grade.
By the time we are ready to kick off the new school year, a wellness policy will be in place to guide the faculty in supporting students in making appropriate physical and nutritional choices. In addition, parents and faculty will be trained in best practices utilizing the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) activity curriculum to engage the students in activity during recess periods throughout the school year.
Stay tuned for more updates!

Fun with Healthy Snacks

On May 19th the Fanwood-Scotch Plains YMCA was a special guest at the annual parent and faculty meeting at Saint John the Apostle School in Clark. We had the opportunity to share information about the exciting new collaboration between Saint John’s and the YMCA, and our shared goals of increasing physical activity and improving the overall health and wellness of the students. We met with much enthusiasm and support from the parents and faculty as we communicated the importance of nutrition and physical activity play in the lives of their children and our efforts to sustain that.

Following the meeting, we kicked off with interactive nutrition, physical activity & healthy snack making sessions with approximately 70 preschool and kindergarten students. Registered dietician, Donna Peart, taught the students about different kinds of snacks and sugars, what was healthy and what was not, and how certain foods can fuel the body so it has energy for the day. Students participated in a stretching & movement activity, and with the help of the teachers and volunteer classroom parents, drew pictures of healthy snacks and made their own snacks!The students gathered around a table to pick their favorite fruits, loaded them on a wooden stick and took some special dipping sauce made of yogurt, a bit of honey, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and some fresh squeezed lemon. The simple task of putting the fruit on a stick and having a healthy dip made it fun for the children to eat a healthy snack. New words emerged from the class like “fruitalicious” and “fruitacular” as the students and teachers laughed, enjoyed their snacks, and talked about how they would want to have healthy snacks like this at their Memorial Day picnics. Each of the students was provided with a healthy eating newsletter to take home and share tips on healthy eating and activity with their families.

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Saint John’s Students to Learn Basic Skills through Healthy Snack Preparation

In addition to building strong bones and muscles, research shows that physical activity has a positive effect on learning, attention and overall academic performance. Coupling that with healthy eating habits helps prepare our young students to perform better and make wiser choices for themselves.
To better prepare the preschool and kindergarten students at Saint John the Apostle School in Clark, healthy snack preparation lessons will be introduced into their classrooms. Not only will they learn, hands-on, how to prepare a healthy snack, they will get to complete creative activities like drawing/designing their own snacks and naming them! Through the lessons the young students will have the opportunity to build on their current skills learning new basic concepts such as:
• Math skills – learning how to count ingredients
• Language skills – introducing new words into their vocabulary
• Sensory exploration – learning about different senses such as touch, taste, smell, etc.
• Confidence building – an opportunity to feel good about accomplishing something new
• Creativity – trying new things and experimenting with different ingredients

Students will get creative in designing their very own healthy snack ideas!

Students will get creative in designing their very own healthy snack ideas!

Preparing healthy snacks in school helps the students learn how to do things independently, including being able to make healthy food choices on their own. These choices will often transfer back home, incorporating family support behind daily nutrition habits. To drive the lessons home and further support families, each student will take home a healthy living newsletter as well as some sample recipes from the lessons.

The newsletter will help generate family support in healthy living!

The newsletter will help generate family support in healthy living!