“I feel so bad when my mom calls me fat.”
That message, written by a student and left on Nurse Robbin DeMuth’s desk, was the impetus for creating a Comprehensive Approach to School Wellness grant program at Joyce Kilmer Middle School. “The note was a cry for help,” DeMuth said, “and I knew we had to do something to get and keep our kids healthy.”
Shortly after receiving the note, DeMuth found an ally. Speaking at a forum for school nurses, Marissa Davis, Project Manager for New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids-Trenton (NJPHK-T), encouraged the audience to “dream big, together we can turn our schools of need into schools of opportunity.”
“I asked for an exercise bike,” said DeMuth. With Davis’s help and a generous grant from Novo Nordisk, the school was able to get that and so much more: a fitness room equipped with cross-trainers, elliptical machines, treadmills, and a multi-trainer; a salad bar in the cafeteria; a greenhouse to teach kids how to grow vegetables; nutrition education for every student, and physical fitness programming.
Together DeMuth, Principal Paula Bethea and Vice Principal Michael Pettola helped Davis develop and implement the grant program and worked with the Trenton Board of Education, parents, teachers, and the community to obtain the necessary backing, input, buy-in, and approvals. Their vision, dedication, and enthusiasm were critical to making the dream a reality. “Preparedness for change and sustainability of these efforts will be the real test of success,” said Davis.
Kilmer was the exact type of project that Novo Nordisk wanted to fund. Novo Nordisk is a global healthcare company with more than 90 years of innovation and leadership in diabetes care. The company also helps people defeat other serious chronic conditions, particularly obesity. The Novo Nordisk Community Health Collaborative™ provides direct grants to nonprofit organizations in support of their programming to improve access to healthy, affordable foods; increase physical activity; and educate parents and caregivers on healthy lifestyle options. “Kilmer’s Comprehensive Approach to School Wellness perfectly complemented our objectives,” said Diana Blankman, Senior Director, Corporate Giving & Social Impact. “Our first priority is to identify the critical challenges faced by communities around our US offices, so that we can respond in a way that is not only important to Novo Nordisk, but even more important to our neighbors. Kilmer’s need for support in engendering healthy lifestyles aligns nicely with our own expertise and allows us to make an especially meaningful impact.”
The various health and fitness components of the program have been introduced gradually at Kilmer. The salad bar came first and is now part of the lunch line, stocked with fruits, vegetables, and other healthy options. The bar includes items students said they liked the most and items students didn’t recognize before attending nutrition classes presented by Rutgers SNAP-ED. The greenhouse was built by Isles Inc. staff this past winter and will be ready for planting in early spring. The YMCA of Trenton trainers offer fitness classes twice a week and encourage staff and students to track their progress.
The door to the fitness room has been closed since work began in 2015. Students are curious and anxious to see what’s inside and they’ll get their chance this month when the fully furnished room opens to all staff and students. The sophistication of the fitness room—multiple machines, a mirrored wall, a flat screen TV—and the introduction of Zumba, yoga, and boxing classes for students and teachers, will be a first in Trenton.
“Kilmer has accomplished so much more than I initially imagined,” said DeMuth. “Barriers to living a healthy lifestyle are slowly, but surely being replaced with policies, activities and built-environment changes that make the healthy choice the easy choice for staff and students alike,” said Principal Bethea.
With the support of NJPHK-T and Novo Nordisk, Davis said, “Kilmer has been able to create and strengthen a culture of health, a practice that we hope will become a priority for all schools, organizations and businesses in the city of Trenton.”SHARE: