School Wellness Advisory Committees
In 2010, Massachusetts passed An Act Relative to School Nutrition, which requires that every Massachusetts public school district have a School Wellness Advisory Committee (SWAC) in place. This committee is to be appointed by the superintendent. Many Massachusetts districts already have an established group that focuses on student health, wellness, and safety, although sometimes these groups or committees go by different names. A separate new group is not required as long as the group includes the specific members and performs the functions required for School Wellness Advisory Committees. This committee can also serve as the wellness policy development team. In fact, two of the SWAC's essential functions include making recommendations about revisions to the district's School Wellness Policy and developing and implementing an annual action plan to make the changes indicated by the Wellness Policy. In addition, the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act at the federal level outlines specific focus areas.
As much as possible, the SWAC should reflect the cultural, linguistic, and ethnic composition of the community. It is also important in to recruit school staff and community members who can bring energy, enthusiasm, and a commitment to children's health.
Massachusetts regulations require that School Wellness Advisory Committees include the following:
- School nurse
- School nutrition staff
- School physical activity staff, such as physical education teacher or athletic director
- Representative from community youth-serving agency
- A member of the district School Committee or someone who is appointed to act as liaison from the SWAC to the School Committee
- School administrators: Though not specifically mentioned by the Massachusetts regulations, federal legislation concerning local school wellness policies requires that school administrators be represented in committees such as SWACs charged with making recommendations about such policies.
Committees may also wish to include the following stakeholders:
- School mental health and social service staff
- Health education teachers and other classroom teachers
- Representatives of local boards of health, school physicians, and local health service providers
The School Wellness Advisory Committee must meet at least 4 times per year. The committee needs to complete a needs assessment each year, reviewing both student health data and information about current school programs and practices. SWACs must:
- Develop and implement an annual improvement plan that:
- includes attention to nutrition, physical activity, and obesity
- has measurable, observable goals and objectives for the coming year to promote student wellness
- explains how the Committee will work with the school district and school personnel to achieve its goals and objectives
- includes recommendations concerning school-level wellness teams and initiatives
- includes a process for monitoring and evaluating progress in reaching goals and objectives
- Submit an annual report to the Superintendent and School Committee, indicating how much progress has been made in achieving the goals and objectives of that year's annual plan.
Immediate Steps: The federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and the Massachusetts regulations for School Wellness Advisory Committees (SWACs) complement each other nicely. School Wellness Advisory Committee regulations specify WHO needs to be involved and HOW they should work together during the year. HHFKA indicates WHAT needs to be the major focus of attention should be first, in the district's Local School Wellness Policy. During this current school year:
- The Superintendent should review the list of committee members to ensure proper representation. If a SWAC does not already exist, the superintendent should appoint one, making sure that all required members are involved.
- The School Wellness Advisory Committee should identify and review local data on students' nutrition, physical activity, and obesity/overweight and examining local programs and practices to see how these issues can be addressed. School nutrition staff can provide important information about school meal participation and competitive foods currently in the school.
- The School Wellness Advisory Committee should review the district's current School Wellness Policy and make plans for strengthening and improving it. Make sure it includes all components of the policy:
- Objectives related to nutrition promotion
- Objectives related to physical education/physical activity
- Objectives related to other school-based activities
- Goals for nutrition promotion
- Updated Nutrition guidelines for all foods available on each school campus, including school meals, competitive foods, celebrations, fundraisers, and sporting events
- A plan for monitoring policy implementation
- Plans to inform the school community and the public about content, implementation, and assessment of the policy