Powered by enthusiastic teachers and parents, the leadership of two School Health Councils and an abundance of great ideas, a $7,500 NJPHK mini-grant to the Monmouth County Health Department is propelling wellness in Monmouth’s Farmingdale and Belmar elementary schools.
The Health Councils have a three-pronged agenda: promote healthy eating habits and choices; increase fitness activities for kids, school staff and families; and teach students and families about nutrition and fitness.
That formal-sounding goal has resulted in a number of fun activities and learning experiences that have changed the way many students view exercise and healthy eating.
The NJPHK mini-grant has funded bus stop signs for Farmingdale’s Walking School Bus, a tabletop salad bar, learn-to-roller-skate lessons, incentives for students who walk, and a puppet show about obesity. In Belmar, funds were used to buy pedometers for an in-school walking program and a 3-D assembly about the importance of nutrition and fitness. The grant also paid for soil and seed for the new edible gardens and lumber to build the raised garden beds. In addition, both schools received MyPlate nutrition information in English and Spanish for students and parents.
Like most areas in the country, Monmouth County has seen rates of childhood obesity rise along with the growth in fast food consumption and decline in children’s’ outdoor activity.
In 2010, the Monmouth County Health Department piloted the “Action for Fitness in Monmouth County” program. Community partners and volunteers formed School Health Councils in targeted school districts. The Councils act as advisors guiding the implementation of tangible policy and environmental changes to create a healthy school environment. They focus on evidence-based strategies that have been proven to work successfully in other schools. Schools can choose their strategies according to their needs and those of students and their families.
Michael A. Meddis, Public Health Coordinator for the Monmouth County Health Department, was an early cheerleader for improving nutrition and movement in the schools. “I was alarmed by the fact that nationwide 17 percent or 12.5 million children and adolescents ages two to nine years are obese. Clearly we had to make changes.”
When an initial educational outreach fell flat, the Health Department realized that true change needed to flow from structure and policy in the schools. So they collaborated with community partners and several volunteers and applied for and received a ShapingNJ grant that was used to pilot the first School Health Council at Farmingdale Elementary School. Building on Farmingdale’s success, Belmar formed its School Health Council in 2012.
These committed teams of teachers, school nurses, parents, volunteers, and food service staff have developed their own missions and fostered successful policies and initiatives that they hope to replicate in more Monmouth communities. A sampling of efforts includes the following:
School Party Policy at Farmingdale
Farmingdale has done away with birthday party traditions that pumped kids full of sugar and empty calories. Parties now occur only once a month in each class. Parents, staff and the PTA receive a checklist of healthy options that limits high sugar items and encourages small portions, fruits and veggies and stresses moderation and creativity. Similar procedures will be adopted by Belmar Elementary this fall and they will encourage classes to celebrate with a fitness activity and one healthy treat.
Belmar built and planted a school and community garden featuring vegetables—
including a bean teepee—fruits, herbs and flowers to attract pollinators. Students cultivated and tasted produce and learned about composting, recycling and container gardening. Farmingdale’s fresh garden produce won prizes in the County Fair the past two years. Belmar students painted a fitness and healthy food mural on the wall behind the garden proclaiming the School Health Council mission: “Fit Belmar: Eat Healthy, Be Active, Live Long.”
In-school and Afterschool Fitness
Walk-to-School Wednesdays occur almost every week of the school year in Farmingdale. Staff or PTA greet students and parents with healthy snacks such as apples or multigrain cheerios. The weeks have themes such as “Healthy Heart,” “Bundled Bears—How to Dress in Winter,” “Name that Green Vegetable,” and “An Apple a Day Keeps the Nurse Away.” Belmar started a monthly walking event in January 2013. Around 100 children walk to school and then enjoy a healthy breakfast such as yogurt with granola and berries.
Also in Belmar and Farmingdale, teachers have committed to walk with students 30 minutes twice a week in many of the classes. The teachers integrate the walk with academic programs so the students walk to “destinations” and measure their progress with pedometers.
Family fitness events, parent information nights and cooking classes for students are also underway.
Building on the success of the first two School Health Councils, the County hopes to expand into Asbury Park soon.SHARE: