The Orange County School Board is providing a major back-to-school gift for all Orange County students—and we’re not talking paper, pencils or backpacks.
Board members have just approved a Local School Wellness Policy that when implemented has the potential of boosting the health of students, and in turn, improving their chances of doing well in school.
The underlying belief is healthy kids make better students.
The new policy is a response to a federal mandate. Wellness policies are required of all schools receiving federal dollars for school lunch programs as a result of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004. The policies are designed to steer kids toward better health by promoting healthy eating and physical activity, and changing the school environment.
In meeting the federal requirement, school board members should be applauded for developing a policy that challenges all of its 180-plus schools to be innovative in developing health and wellness programs.
The policy, effective the first day of school, includes a requirement that each public school in Orange County establish a Healthy School Team (HST).
Based on the CDC’s Coordinated School Health Model, HSTs have members representing eight areas—health education; counseling, psychological and social services; school health services; nutrition services; physical education; the healthy school environment; health promotion for staff; and family and community.
HSTs are based on the belief that the health of our youth is a community-wide concern requiring involvement of parents, families, teachers, counselors, school administrators, health care professionals and businesses. Schools can’t do this alone.
These teams have been in place for about three years in 13 schools in east Orange County, and they are effective. Formed with assistance and leadership from the Winter Park Health Foundation, each HST has developed activities crafted to meet the specific needs of a school. Events have ranged from “Wellness Wednesdays” where children were rewarded when they were found involved in healthy activities like eating nutritious lunches and drinking water, to HST-sponsored walking and running clubs, for children, teachers and parents.
The activities are only limited by imagination. But it’s all about building a culture of health and wellness in schools and helping people understand the importance of good health when it comes to learning.
Is the OCPS Wellness Policy perfect? No. But it is a great start. Now it’s up to the community to help with implementation and to work with the district to develop a long-term plan that increases the focus on the health and wellness of children.
Want to help?
Sign up to participate on or support a Healthy School Team by contacting the principal at your Orange County school. Or become a member of the Orange County School Health Advisory Council.
And remember, healthy kids make better students; better students make healthy communities.
—Debbie Watson, Chairman of the Orange County School Health Advisory Council and Vice President-Winter Park Health Foundation.