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Monday, July 24, 2017

Bronx Health REACH Hosts Two Successful End-of-Year School Trainings

Twenty-nine people participated in two Bronx Health REACH professional development trainings held on June 8th.

On June 8th, twenty-nine teachers, school counselors, and parent coordinators from Bronx School Districts 7, 8, 9 and 12 attended our training, "Beyond the Champion: Laying the Foundation for a Successful Wellness Council and Healthier Culture.” Training participants received an introduction to the building blocks of a successful wellness council as a starting point for creating a more health-oriented school community. During the training, participants shared ideas about how to implement wellness in the classroom and as a school-wide effort. Participants came up with some fantastic ideas to improve wellness in their schools including healthy “family-style” meals where teachers would join students in the lunchroom and model healthy eating behaviors. One teacher also suggested incorporating quick physical activity breaks at the beginning of the class to help calm students before starting the lesson.

At the end of the training, participants received a one page checklist  to assess the strengths and gaps in their school wellness programming. Bronx Health REACH also invited participants to attend our quarterly wellness council meetings for school staff to network and share wellness ideas and resources across school districts. Join our Bronx Wellness Council Network by emailing Moria Byrne-Zaaloff.

After a tasty, healthy lunch of roast chicken, corn  salsa, rice and beans and salad, some of the teachers who attended the morning session were joined by a new set of teachers for the second session with Dr. Marissa Burgermaster. This session was about nutrition and food and integrating nutrition lessons into the classroom curriculum. Dr. Burgermaster discussed how to incorporate nutrition and food literacy into existing lessons that motivate students to adopt an active lifestyle and healthier eating habits. Teachers completed the course with a nutrition education toolkit and plenty of activities to adopt for classroom use. Unable to attend? You can download a copy of the toolkit.

If you have questions about the toolkit, either of the trainings, or would like Bronx Health REACH to come to your school to talk about nutrition education lesson planning or wellness councils with your teachers, please contact us for more information.

Guidelines to Develop a Culture of Wellness in your School:

Schools participating in the federal lunch and/or breakfast program are required to start implementing a wellness council by June 30th. Below are a few simple steps on how to get started.

1. Engage with school leadership. Work with your leadership committee and PTA  to include wellness on the monthly meeting agenda. Let them know that when children have a nutrient-poor diet and insufficient exercise, they are more likely to have higher absentee rates and struggle in school.

2. Find a policy issue leadership can agree on. For example:  (elimination of vending machines/replacing products with smart snacks, changing food sold in school stores, promotion of/access to drinking water, in-school fundraisers, classroom/school celebrations, etc.)

3. Develop a strategy to reach this goal. Determine what your school's policy issue is, and create a plan that makes the most sense for your school community.

4. Write a proposal (with action steps to launch and implement your policy issue campaign) and share with the PTA and principal.

5. Launch campaign

6. Review challenges/successes through an assessment. Celebrate any successes!

Teacher-Approved Garden Lessons for the Classroom

Students building a bean trellis with teacher Laura Goodspeed in the garden at the Family School. 

From calculating the area of a garden bed, to writing about the process of planting a seed, hands on learning in school gardens can be a very impactful way for students to solidify and expand upon what they are studying in the classroom. Recognizing these benefits of garden learning, educators at The Family School (PS 443) wanted to help more teachers make use of their school garden. However, for many teachers, figuring out where to start using the garden can seem like a daunting task! The teachers at PS 443 realized that they needed a set of garden lessons that was organized, easily accessible, and did not require too many extra materials.

This year Laura Goodspeed, a first grade teacher at PS 443 and Cara Plott, FoodCorps service member at PS 443 created a garden curriculum for teachers. They pulled together lessons from established garden curriculum resources like Edible Schoolyard NYC and LifeLab’s “The Growing Classroom,” and filled in the gaps with new lessons and worksheets. The lessons support the NYC Science and English Language Arts learning objectives. 

“We designed a curriculum to be used for weekly lessons during one growing season,” said Cara. “However, we recognize that each school, each garden, and each class is unique. The beauty of having the lessons in an editable format on Google Drive is that teachers can put in comments, move lessons around on the schedule, and tailor it to their schedule and class needs. Over time this “living curriculum” will continue to adapt to the needs of your school. ”

The teachers and Cara piloted the curriculum this spring semester in their modest four bed garden.  Teachers and students at the school reported that the lessons were a great success. All of the school’s Pre-K, Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classes had lessons in the school garden and planted their own crop. They will update and improve the lessons based on teacher feedback.

Cara noted, “We hope these lessons will empower teachers and motivate students to learn and grow more in our garden, and inspire educators at other schools to do the same!”

Any teacher interested in gaining access to the curriculum should contact Moria Byrne-Zaaloff at Bronx Health REACH. Or visit the resource page in late summer when the lesson booklet will be added to the BHR website.

Friday, June 23, 2017

New York City Physical Education Spaces Get A Well Needed Boost

Bronx Health REACH is excited about the recent announcement from New York City Mayor de Blasio and city leadership to invest $385 million in capital funds to bring designated physical education (PE) space to all schools citywide as part of the Universal PE Initiative. The initiative includes 76 schools in the first phase. Thirteen of these schools are located in the Bronx.

In the Bronx, 43% of elementary school students are overweight or obese, higher than the rest of NYC boroughs. Lack of physical activity is a significant factor contributing to childhood obesity. To further investigate the link between high childhood obesity rates and physical education resources in the South Bronx, Bronx Health REACH (BHR) led a district-wide assessment of PE in 2015/16. The assessment looked at PE instruction and spaces in the South Bronx District 9 elementary schools.

The assessment revealed that 18 of the 24 schools (75%) had a gymnasium space to use for physical education. However, the 18 schools with gymnasiums encounter challenges in their existing space due to overcrowding and limited space. The remaining six schools (25%) are without gym space and are dependent on alternative spaces like classrooms, hallways and cafeterias for indoor physical activities.

BHR has met with, and will continue to work with the New York City Department of Education to meet the needs in schools for PE spaces. BHR has worked with several of the District 9 schools lacking PE space to implement active design projects that utilize small equipment and materials transforming areas in and around school buildings to promote physical activity at schools  like Grant Ave Elementary School which is bringing ‘Big Blue Blocks’ to turn  their empty yard into a play ground. While at PS 35 where students currently use the multipurpose room as a gym, the school is working to improve the space with art and play equipment.

In the next few years, PS 35 will see larger scale changes with a new gym space thanks to the Universal PE Initiative! The NYC Department of Education (DOE) and the School Construction Authority (SCA) will work with schools to explore options that ensure all students have access to PE space. The DOE offers several solutions including constructing new gymnasiums, converting/enhancing existing spaces for fitness, renovating playgrounds, converting auditoriums into gyms, or leasing space from nearby community-based organizations.

Recent legislation has addressed other aspects of PE access in NYC schools. In 2015, the NYC Council passed Local Law 102 that requires NYC DOE to make publically available, an assessment of PE programs offered at all NYC schools. In 2016, the Mayor allocated $100 million for 500 newly licensed PE teachers through the PE Works Program (a 19% increase) and “Move to Improve,” a classroom-based PE program. Equitable school physical education, both instruction and physical spaces, could reduce the disparity in childhood obesity.

It cannot be overstated the important role schools have in the fight to reduce childhood obesity. New York public school students spend an estimated 1,200 hours in school each year. School physical education is a critical factor in not only improving their health but also in their academic achievements. The city’s commitment to NYC school gym spaces is an investment in the current and future health and wellbeing of all New Yorkers.

To learn more:

Read the press release describing the new plan

Read more about PE city-wide.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sprout Scouts: Good, Healthy, Safe, Happy, and Respected

Students clear the plant debris from the fall harvest to prepare for spring planting.

Cara Plott is a FoodCorps service member with Bronx Health REACH. She is working with The Family School in the Bronx to integrate garden and nutrition lessons into classes, promotes healthy food options in the cafeteria, and supports a school wide culture of health. Cara attributes her excitement at working with The Family School to the fact that teachers, administration, cafeteria staff, and students appreciate the importance of healthy bodies and healthy minds for learning and growing. 

Here is her report.

This spring has been an exciting time at the Family School as we have rolled out two new programs to give our students more opportunities to grow as learners and gardeners. One initiative is the roll out of our weekly garden lesson sequence. For the first time this spring, students from all Pre-K, Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade classes have engaged with our garden through planting seeds and learning how plants grow. Each class has a weekly garden class time, where students do hands on lessons that are aligned with the New York City science curriculum. In the fall, our 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes will learn and plant in the garden. By systematizing our use of the garden space, more students and teachers will have the opportunity to use the garden as it becomes woven into the fabric of the school’s curriculum and culture.

Second, we have started our first ever afterschool gardening club, called Sprout Scouts. The Sprout Scouts are ten fifth grader leaders nominated by their teachers, some of whom are also Wellness Ambassadors. The Sprout Scouts club is jointly led by Ms. Goodspeed, a first grade teacher at The Family School, and me. Our Sprout Scouts have been hard at work getting the garden ready for planting by our younger students. So far they have cleared the garden beds of dead plant matter from last year and analyzed the components of our soil. They also helped to construct a pea trellis (see photo below)! Many of the activities that we do in Sprout Scouts are from the curriculum recently developed by FoodCorps in collaboration with LifeLabs.

Students helped to build a pea trellis on one of the raised beds. Here students are stringing twine to create the net up which the pea plants will grow.

Why are we so passionate about gardening at The Family School? First, from seed math, to writing poems about changes in spring, to analyzing nitrogen content of soil, we know that our students can greatly benefit from the hands on learning opportunities in the garden. Second, seeing where the food they eat comes from and developing a better understanding of the cycle of nature equips our students with the knowledge and critical thinking skills to make healthy choices in their own lives now and in the years to come. Third, the garden creates a unique community for our students. While we are learning gardening and cooking skills, we are also learning life skills, like how we should respect all living things, from our fellow humans to the smallest worm. On our first day of Sprout Scouts, our Scouts came up with words that described the way that they wanted to feel in the garden: “Good, Healthy, Safe, Happy, and Respected.” Through our work in and out of the garden we seek to help make our fellow gardeners know that they deserve to feel each of these things, and that they are supported to grow into whatever they aspire to be.