Tuesday, March 5, 2019

WELL (Wellness, Equity, and Learning Legislation): The Campaign for School Wellness in New York State

It’s March and that means it is National Nutrition Month!  At Bronx Health REACH, one of our priorities this month is in ensuring all students have access to fresh, nutritious food, nutrition education, and environments that promote wellness, so students can make healthy choices starting from a young age. We support schools having strong school wellness councils which can bring needed resources into the school community.  Bronx Health REACH manages the Creating Healthy Schools & Communities Program in the Bronx, a program of the New York State Department of Health, by which we bring technical assistance to over 84 schools throughout school districts 7, 8, 9, and 12. With Bronx Health REACH’s support, school leaders have implemented nutrition education and fitness programming, and established school gardens, at their schools. These efforts support implementation of the school wellness policies required through the United States Department of Agriculture and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

There are many teachers and administrators who act as wellness champions and do all they can to make their schools healthy environments for students. However, most teachers and administrators find it difficult to incorporate wellness initiatives into the school culture. They are burdened with testing requirements and schedules that rightly emphasize academic subjects, but, unfortunately, don’t often emphasize the importance of our children’s health.  There seems to be a failure to recognize that healthier students are better learners and to implement policies and practices that create educational environments that promote healthy lifestyles. The Together for Healthy and Successful Schools Initiative found that New York’s policies only provide “limited” coverage, the second-to-lowest ranking, for comprehensive supports to address students' physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Bronx Health REACH is therefore glad to participate in the WELL Campaign (Wellness, Equity, and Learning Legislation), launched by the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education, and Policy at Teachers, College, Columbia University. The WELL Campaign asks for state-level solutions for students’ well-being by including the following in the 2020 One House Budget Proposal:

A New York State model wellness policy to share with local schools districts;

$10 million to support target school districts with wellness policy implementation;

An online hub to centralize district wellness policies and reports.

Tuesday, March 5th is a Day of Action for the WELL Campaign. This is an opportunity to tell your legislators to prioritize school wellness in the One House Budget Proposal. Click here to take action now!

The beginning of March is critical to let our legislators know that we value school wellness policy leadership in New York State, as the One-House Budget Proposal will be decided on by mid-March and voted on by the end of March.

Other actions that have been taken include Assemblymember Michael Benedetto, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, circulating a budget letter with the WELL Campaign asks, that 10 members signed onto, including: Anthony D’Urso, Carmen E. Arroyo, Barbara Lifton, Judy Griffin, Douglas Smith, John T. McDonald III, Joseph DeStefano, Anthony Palumbo, Nathalia Fernandez and Michael Reilly.  These 10 who signed on are out of 150 Assemblymembers.  Meanwhile, we need both our Assemblymembers as well as New York State Senators to prioritize this school wellness ask in order for it to be included in the One House Budget Proposal. We have much more work to do in raising awareness about the important proposals in the WELL Campaign!  Assemblyman Benedetto has also agreed to host a legislative Lunch and Learn in Albany on March 26th for legislators. This event will provide legislators with an opportunity to learn about the status of school wellness policy in New York State. 

Prioritizing school wellness policy means supporting our kids physically, mentally, and emotionally: making sure students have nutritious food, nutrition education, physical activity, mental health care, and supportive school climates that they need to succeed in school.  Equipping the New York State Education Department with resources to support school districts in creating, implementing, and assessing strong, comprehensive local wellness policies is critical to making this happen.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Bronx Health REACH and Our Elected Officials

In December 2018 and January 2019, Bronx Health REACH staff held meetings with Senator Jose M. Serrano and his Chief of Staff George Damalas, Assemblymember Victor M. Pichardo and his Communications Coordinator Nicholas Peters, and Assemblymember Michael Benedetto and his Chief of Staff John Collazzi in their district offices. The meetings provided the elected officials with updates on Creating Healthy Schools & Communities Program implementation in the Bronx and information on the WELL Campaign (Wellness, Equity, and Learning Legislation), launched by the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education, and Policy at Teachers, College, Columbia University and supports school districts to create, implement, and assess strong, comprehensive local wellness policies.

Assemblyman Benedetto, the new Chair of the Education Committee in the New York State Assembly, has agreed to host a legislative Lunch and Learn for New York State legislators so they may learn about the status of school wellness policy in New York State, and the WELL Campaign. This event will be held on March 26 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

The meetings, including that with Assemblyman Pichardo, highlighted a concern that the New York State Education Department School Health Associate position has been vacant for the past 9 years. And, as a result New York State missed an opportunity to apply for a 5-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Improving Student Health and Academic Achievement through Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Management of Chronic Conditions in Schools” in 2018. The CDC made this grant only available to local education agencies such as state education departments. In prior years, CDC funding to provide schools with technical assistance for school wellness policy implementation had been available to state health departments. Without federal CDC funding, the status of support for school wellness policy implementation in New York State remains in question.

On Tuesday, January 29th, at the ‘City Hall in Your Borough Resource Fair in the Bronx,’ Bronx Health REACH Coalition member Sandra Jenkins, from Church of God of Prophecy, met with Mayor de Blasio and reminded him of his promise to meet with Bronx Health REACH to discuss the #Not62: The Campaign for a Healthy Bronx and the ask of making the Bronx a priority in all the city’s agencies. The Mayor promised to look into it. Charmaine Ruddock, Project Director, also spoke briefly to City Council member Vanessa L. Gibson about the promised meeting with the Mayor because it was at her sponsored town hall meeting last April where the Mayor had made that public commitment to meet with the Coalition.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Remembering Bodega Association President Ramon Murphy

We were saddened to hear of the passing in December of one of our partners, Ramon Murphy, the President of the Bodega Association who had played a large role in Bronx Health REACH’s Healthy Bodega Initiative over the past four years. Mr. Murphy was a long time bodega owner and a tireless advocate on behalf of the more than 5,000 Bodega Association members. He provided input and helped lead the training sessions for bodega owners on how they can profitably transform their stores to serve healthy food to their customers.

As a huge champion of the Healthy Bodega Initiative, Mr. Murphy worked with Spring Bank, a local community bank, to offer bodega owners participating in the bodega trainings very attractive loans for store improvements. He encouraged Goya Foods to supply their 'Better For You' low sodium products to participating Bronx bodegas; and provided valuable insight in the development of the Healthy Bodega marketing campaign. He made it clear that bodegas and their owners, as key community fixtures, viewed improving the health and well-being of the community a priority because without healthy customers neighborhood bodegas would not survive. He will be sorely missed.

Mr. Murphy can be seen in a video about the Healthy Bodega Initiative.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Bronx Health REACH Testifies at City Council Hearings

Bronx Health REACH Director Charmaine Ruddock testified in support of the New York Health Act.

On December 6th, Bronx Health REACH Project Director Charmaine Ruddock provided testimony to the New York City Council in support of the New York Health Act. The New York City Council was voting to call on the New York State Legislature and Governor to pass the New York Health Act, that would guarantee publicly-funded healthcare for all New York State residents without deductibles, co-pays or out-of-network charges. Charmaine spoke on how the passing of the New York Health Act would benefit Bronx residents since the borough is currently not only the unhealthiest county in New York State, but has the largest percentage of uninsured adults (22%) and the largest percentage of adults going without needed medical care (12%). The New York Health Act would enable more Bronx residents to live healthier, longer lives.

The New York Health Act would also provide Bronx residents access to the same quality of healthcare others receive in other parts of NYC and would improve health outcomes for all residents. NY Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried and former NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Mary T. Bassett also testified before the Council, as did Dr. Bassett's mother, who is seated next to Charmaine in the photo above.

Moria Byrne-Zaaloff spoke in support of nutrition education.

On January 16th, the New York City Council held a hearing on the Food and Nutrition Education Reporting Bill. This Bill would require the New York City Department of Education to submit an annual report of food and nutrition education classes to the New York City Council.

Moria Byrne-Zaaloff, Bronx Health REACH’s Program Coordinator for Creating Healthy Schools and Communities testified on the lack of nutrition education in NYC public schools, its importance, and the anticipated impact the bill would have in improving the healthy eating of public school students.

Currently, there isn't any publicly available information on how many schools are actively implementing nutrition education to meet NYC health education requirements. With a reporting system in place, schools and school-based partners focused on nutrition education will have a better sense of gaps and barriers to providing nutrition education in NYC public schools.


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