On Saturday, March 7th, school professionals gathered at Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School in Palmer for the Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom Annual Winter Conference for Educators, Growing Minds through Massachusetts Agriculture. This conference was aimed toward teachers and other educators and provided countless activity ideas, resources, and connections to bring agriculture to the classroom.
JSI instructor Meg Whitbeck, MS, RD presented a session on Strategies to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity. She covered different ways to promote healthy eating and movement for all ages through education, incentives, and fun activities in the classroom, schoolyard, and school garden.
Wellness policies were identified as the first place to look to help promote healthy lifestyles in the classroom. Each school district’s wellness policy, driven by the community’s stakeholders, has different components to be upheld and implemented. Meg encouraged educators to look here first, and then create a focus for a program or initiative.
Meg strongly encouraged everyone to continue educating about healthy choices, as this is proven to impact children’s eating habits. Nutrition education can be incorporated into all different aspects of the curriculum.
Some helpful resources and ideas Meg shared included:
- Host a BOKS before-school program, which are FREE programs before school that get the students moving for a brain and body boost before a day full of learning.
- Hang posters and other visuals around the classroom and school promoting healthy food and exercise habits – a passive but effective way to reinforce a healthy lifestyle.
- Take “Brain Breaks” to give kids a brief moment of movement to refocus their energy, such as this fun YouTube dance!
- Flaunt your own healthy snacks, challenge students to bring healthy foods, and try new fruits and vegetables in the classroom with them.
- Host a health fair run by the students, which actively engages them in nutrition education and has the potential to be a fundraising opportunity.
- Hold food tastings, or Chefs Move to Schools events (which are FREE!) to spark students’ interest in healthy food.
- Go on farm tours and field trips, and take advantage of Farm to School opportunities.
- Start a school garden at your school, whether it be small potted plants in the classroom or a plot of soil in the schoolyard.
Holly Alperin, EdM, MCHES, Nutrition Education and Training Coordinator of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) attended the session and spoke about an opportunity in Massachusetts with the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement. The DESE and JSI were awarded a Team Nutrition grant to be implemented over the 2014/15 and 2015/16 school years; 50 schools in Massachusetts will be provided with training and technical assistance to implement Smarter Lunchrooms strategies in their cafeterias as part of the Wellness Initiative for Student Success. The Wellness Initiative for Student Success is a hands-on, multi-session experience that guides school wellness teams to advance efforts for a healthier nutrition and physical activity environment for students and staff. Find out more information about the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement in the JSI Resource Center.
Be sure to explore all that JSI offers, including the following professional development programs and resources:
- A 4-week online graduate course offered by the FSU Online Professional Development for Educators called School Gardening 101, one of several summer courses available, will be taught by Meg Whitbeck.
- JSI’s Resource Center is a valuable tool for school professionals, filled with reliable and convenient resources in a variety of categories.
- JSI offers Workshops to Go for professional development programs for school nutrition staff.
- Check out the Wellness Solution for Massachusetts website for wellness policy resources, including its blog that contains nutrition education success stories from schools across the state.