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Vineland Board of Education and Administration Champions School Wellness

September 21, 2014 | Community News, Vineland

200298337-001The road to wellness in Vineland public schools has had some detours and standstills, but a critical milestone has been achieved: effective September 2014, Vineland Public Schools commenced the new school year with an improved Wellness Policy that commits to providing students with healthy foods; supporting nutrition education; and making daily physical activity a priority.

Several components of the policy are particularly important for addressing obesity among children in Vineland, according to Sara Paciocco, health education field representative for the city of Vineland Department of Health. The District has committed to championing nutrition education and to communicating with parents about healthy food and physical activity. The policy also endorses establishing staff wellness councils that can guide staff in how to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

A Safe Routes to School clause in the policy commits the board to assessing and “if necessary and to the extent possible” making improvements to facilitate safer and easier walking and biking to school. “Six percent of Vineland students walk to school,” Paciocco said. “This commitment can open the door to improving sidewalks, creating bike paths and getting school staff involved in ’walking school buses’ and other initiatives to generate foot traffic and cut down on car traffic around the schools.” NJPHK-Vineland, the YMCA, the city of Vineland Health and Engineering Departments and the Vineland Public Schools recently collaborated on a Safe Routes to School grant application. The partners hope that the District’s commitment to Safe Routes to School will demonstrate the commitment needed to win the grant.

Emma Lopez, health educator for the city of Vineland Department of Health and NJPHK-Vineland co-director credits the improved policy to the tenacity and vision of Paciocco and Ryan Long, a former health education field representative for the city of Vineland Department of Health; school superintendent, Dr. Mary L. Gruccio; and committed board of education members.

“We started developing a Wellness Policy for Vineland Public Schools almost three years ago,” Lopez said. “Ryan began researching wellness policies across the country aimed at reducing obesity within a school system. We incorporated best practices into a doable plan that could be integrated into the Vineland Public Schools.”

The initial policy was socialized, revamped, and sometimes put on hold due to changes in administration and turnover as a result of the board of education elections, which tends to shift priorities. “It was more lessons learned than successes for a while,” Lopez said. Finally, in early 2014, the policy was presented to the school board’s policy committee. That was the turning point and the policy was adopted shortly thereafter. Lesson learned: persistence pays off.

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