School Health and Wellness: District Honored for Outstanding Program

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In recognition of the Vestal School District's commitment, perseverance and leadership in the area of health and wellness, the Broome County Health Department's Steps to a HealthierNY (Steps) initiative will present the Vestal Board of Education, Administration, and District School Health Advisory Council with an honorary Steps to a HealthierNY flag January 23, 2007 in the Board Conference Room at the Vestal Administration Building, 201 Main Street, Vestal. The presentation will occur during the Board of Education Meeting, which begins at 7:00 p.m.

The Vestal School District has been instrumental in collaborating with the Steps initiative to reduce the burden of obesity, asthma and diabetes in their school community by implementing nutrition and wellness programs and instituting policies that promote healthy living.

This is important because poor diet and inadequate physical activity are the second leading cause of death in the United States and together account for at least 300,000 deaths annually. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), obesity and overweight have reached epidemic proportions in the United States. The Vestal School District has been a leader in our community in addressing both of these serious issues.

This is particularly important because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns us that one in three children born in the United States in 2000 will become diabetic unless many more people start eating less and exercising more. There are twice as many overweight children and almost three times as many overweight adolescents as there were in 1980. In 2000, 15% of children aged 6 to 11 were overweight and nearly 16% of adolescents were overweight in the United States (2003 Action for Healthy Kids).

Diane Olivet has been a leader in staff health and wellness. She has facilitated many Mission Meltaway programs in Vestal Central School District for staff and the community. This program supports a collaborative approach to healthy eating and increased physical activity. Ms. Olivet has motivated participants to take and achieve manageable steps toward good health though this group approach to weight loss. During this time, participants work together to eat healthier, be more physically active, and begin to shed pounds. Their healthy lifestyles are contagious among other staff. This program has also helped them manage stress and be positive role models for students.

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In addition, Ms. Olivet is working to incorporate a Mission Meltaway maintenance program so that those participants who complete the nine weeks will be able to continue with their cohorts and maintain their momentum regarding healthy choices. Ms. Olivet not only talks the talk but also walks the walk with the Wednesday Walkers Club that she formed as part of the ongoing Mission Meltaway maintenance program. The Wednesday walkers club provides group support, physical activity and stress management while walking the halls prior to the school day.

Vestal Central School District's Wellness Committee has also begun offering Yoga classes lead by Alenna McDonald. This also helps teachers unwind, gain focus and be more effective in school and out.

The Vestal Golden Bears are committed to providing school environments that promote and protect children's health, well-being, and ability to learn by supporting healthy eating and physical activity. One way they accomplish this is through the implementation of their local wellness policy pursuant to the National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1996. Vestal Central School District's policy reflects a commitment to integrating nutrition education into the district health and family & consumer science curriculum at all academic levels consistent with New York State's health education standards. The benefits of physical activity has been integrated into the district physical education curriculum and health curriculum at all levels, and the district is committed to providing meals to students in accordance with State and Federal nutritional guidelines, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture's current recommendations relating to the food guide pyramid. The Vestal School District has also demonstrated a commitment to the ongoing implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the policy.

The wellness policy has many benefits for the whole school community. It will help young people and families understand how they can have control over many conditions that affect their health. A comprehensive school health approach can result in improved health behaviors for the whole family. There are also many benefits for schools and teachers including improved student achievement, lower absenteeism, reduced drop-out rates, lower incidences of smoking and alcohol use; healthier school climate resulting in maximizing use of instructional and administrative time and staff role models to reinforce positive health messages through daily interactions with students.

Under the leadership of Dr. Annamary Allen the Vestal School District has completed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention School Health Index which facilitated the planning process for increased physical activity opportunities for students, staff and the community. Vestal has collaborated with the Steps initiative to expand several aspects of their physical education program by purchasing additional equipment for the elementary schools. African Road Elementary School enhanced their physical education program by adding field hockey to their curriculum. The middle and high school have expanded their program by adding a pedometer walking component to their curriculum. To support stretching and muscle exercises Tioga Hills Elementary worked with the Steps program to enhance their physical education program by adding Ollie the Octopus parachutes for younger students and stability balls into the intermediate curriculum.

This year the Vestal Central School District also partnered with Binghamton University and the Steps to a HealthierNY program to implement the American Lung Association

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