Patrick McPartland/Staff Photographer - Kids draw pictures of healthy food as part of an activity at Our Lady Black Rock health & wellness on March 28.
Students at Our Lady of Black Rock School have been jumping up and down over the school’s new health and wellness program, which aims to get the kids out of their chairs and moving. The Buffalo school will help their students learn to lead active healthy lives.
OLBR introduced the new policy by hosting a health fair in March to educate students and parents on good nutrition, letting them know what to eat and how much. The kids also got a chance to learn some fun fitness techniques such as judo and Zumba Fitness for Wii, and play 3-on-3 basketball. A healthy trivia challenge and magic show were also offered.
The health fair, funded by a grant from WNED-TV, was just a taste of what is to come for OLBR.
To plan its health program, Our Lady of Black Rock assembled a wellness committee known as the School Health Initiative Force Team, or SHIFT, comprised of key stakeholders in the school community and six students. Using the School Health Index, a self-assessment and planning tool developed by the Center for Disease Control, OLBR was able to identify its strengths and weaknesses in the areas of physical education and activity.
The committee identified mission and vision statements to guide their work.
The mission of SHIFT is to “achieve a higher quality of a healthy mind and body for our school community.” It is followed by a vision of “students having an understanding and appreciation for exercise, nutrition, overall mental and physical wellness through health education, physical education, physical activity programs, and family and community involvement.”
The wellness policy was drawn up to support the committee’s work. The policy includes nutrition, physical activity, and family and community involvement elements. The OLBR board will review the plan this spring.
The school has been working on its health plan for a year, and informing the community through articles in the school newsletter. The cafeteria now offers low-fat milk and wheat bread, and plans to replace its Pepsi machines with drinks void of the high-sugar punch.
“These things have been received with great acceptance. It gives a little more impetus to keep doing these things,” said Principal Martha Eadie.
Soon the school will be piloting a “Take 10!” program where teachers incorporate 10-minute bursts of physical activity into their lessons. “So they’re not sitting, sitting, sitting in their classroom. They’re moving in the context of the class,” said Eadie.
A Walking Club will also start soon, thanks to an Action for Healthy Kids – Game On grant. Students will track their miles as they walk around the school grounds. The idea for the club came from the students themselves.
“Having the kids in (the school wellness committee) is huge because they are the voice of the school. It is not what we’re dictating to them; it’s them having a voice and being heard,” Eadie said.
One of the biggest obstacles children face is being in school for seven hours a day. Sitting still while reading and writing offers little opportunity for exercise. At home they either sit down in front of the TV or computer; then they sleep at night. “So, unless someone, whether that is the gym teacher, parents or friends, help them increase their physical activity during the day, they are not getting outside. When do they ever get the chance to exercise their bodies?” said Caesandra Seawell, LiveWell youth coordinator for WNED, who spoke at the health fair.
Another challenge is they have little control over what they eat. It’s their parents who buy the groceries and prepare their meals.
“It is important not just to get the kids this information so that they start thinking practically and develop some good behaviors, but it is also important to talk to the parents and the grownups who are in charge of the kids’ food systems,” said Seawell.
WNED’s LiveWell division offers 11 videos with discussion questions to schools. Topics include riding bicycles, being active in your community and gardening. The main topics are nutrition, activity and community.
Programs like this may be seen in more and more schools across the diocese. Faith in Tomorrow, the three-year strategic plan from the diocesan Office of Catholic Education, outlines health objectives for Catholic elementary schools. The plan addresses several non-academic barriers that affect a child’s ability to learn, including lack of nutrition, divorce or death of a family member, and lack of health care.
“We’re looking at the whole child. Our schools have always done that,” said Carol Kostyniak, secretary for Catholic Education for the Diocese of Buffalo. “In the old days the sisters would make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a child who didn’t have a lunch that day. So we are encouraging schools to implement breakfast programs, good nutrition, making sure that is part of it.”
OLBR will partner with Baker Victory Services to provide a mobile dental unit to the school twice a year. Students will be able to have dental exams, cleanings and sealants in the school. The school will also try to find a dental home and medical home for students without a regular doctor.
“If you’re not feeling well, you won’t do well in school that day, or you didn’t eat or you’re worried about your home life. So we look at the physical wellbeing and we look at the emotional piece,” said Kostyniak.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized a Hierarchy of Needs, where nutrition and health are needed first if a child is to become a moral, creative, accepting person.
“Our Lady of Black Rock this year, put in a breakfast program for the kids. Martha told me they saw a big increase in the kids’ attentiveness in the class in the morning,” said Kostyniak.
Eadie expects the wellness policy to be approved by the school board in May.
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