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.