Wellness and nutrition have taken on a renewed focus in Bellingham Public Schools. In fall 2015, a Food Services Advisory Group worked with our community to build a progressive vision for the future of our food services program. (See scrolling photo.) This vision will lead us through a multi-year transition toward a scratch cooking model in a centralized kitchen by 2019. This kitchen will be built alongside the new Sehome High School.
For the next several years, students and families will notice improvements in the food we serve in our schools as we work toward this exciting vision.
Lunch Lessons and Chef Ann
The consulting group Lunch Lessons and celebrated healthy school food advocate Chef Ann Cooper made numerous visits to our schools and to the Bellingham community to help us begin this journey. Lunch Lessons assessed our status and provided us with a proposed roadmap for moving forward. In January, Chef Ann gave a community presentation at the Mount Baker Theatre, met with food services staff and with students, and helped build excitement about improving our school food. Click here to view her presentation.
Breakfast in the Classroom
In May 2016, four Title I elementary schools started serving Breakfast in the Classroom, a well-researched program that provides students a healthier start to their school day. Studies have shown that breakfast in the classroom improves academic achievement, as well as attendance and overall health.
Students at Birchwood, Carl Cozier, Cordata and Roosevelt elementary schools now have access to a nutritious breakfast served right in their classrooms, as they begin their day of learning.
Recess Before Lunch, Menu Improvements and Salad Bars
Many of our elementary schools are also implementing a new schedule of students taking recess first then coming in hungry for lunch. This best practice of ‘recess before lunch’ helps create a calmer atmosphere both in the lunch room and in the classroom after lunch. It also helps students digest their food better and results in less food waste with increased fruit and vegetable consumption.
Many exciting school menu improvements are coming this fall. As equipment arrives, every school will have a full salad bar improving access to fresh fruit and vegetables. With our increased focus on quality ingredients, menus will include 100% all-beef hot dogs and hamburgers, and healthy new entree options will be served at all schools. We will no longer be serving chocolate milk. Additionally, a wider variety of fresh grab n’ go options will be made available at all middle and high schools.
In April, a Wellness Policy Advisory Group began meeting to develop a wellness policy and recommended procedures. This policy will include goals for nutrition promotion and education, physical activity, and other school-based activities that promote student wellness. The policy will also address the sale of foods and beverages on the school campus during the school day in a way that is consistent with federal nutrition standards. Follow the group’s work online.
Funding to build a central kitchen, supported by voters in the 2013 bond initiative, is in a pre-planning phase. The current thinking is to locate the central kitchen separately but on the same campus as the new Sehome High School. Formal design efforts associated with the new central kitchen are slated to begin in fall 2016. Click here for updates.
Q and A with Jessica Sankey, Director of Wellness
The mission of The Bellingham Promise states we collectively commit that our students are cared for, including their overall health and well-being.
Thanks to funding support from the Whatcom Community Foundation, Jessica Sankey is focused on the wellness and health of our students and staff in a new role as director of wellness. We asked Sankey for her thoughts and vision for wellness in Bellingham Public Schools.
In your new position as director of wellness, what do you see as your main role?
JESSICA: I like using the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model to guide our efforts in promoting good health in schools. This model, which has been adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, keeps the well-being of students at the center of our attention, emphasizes a school-wide approach, and illustrates how health and learning are intertwined. I think it is important to remember that we are all better learners when we are healthy and well, in the most expansive sense of the word. In this job, I have the opportunity to look for ways to promote positive health in everything we do — like talking about nutrition in the lunchroom and in the science classroom; advocating for school schedules that allow for plenty of physical activity and physical education; and helping our food services program get its exciting new initiatives underway.
Why is a focus on wellness important?
JESSICA: A physical education teacher in one of our elementary schools told me that her goal is to graduate a class of 5th graders who are so confident in their “physical literacy” that they all they all go out for a middle school sport or activity.
The Bellingham Promise commits to developing students who are “healthy and active individuals.” We need time to define what we mean when we say “healthy and active” and then grow our education system to support our goals. I think healthy and active students are the kinds of students that embody another outcome of The Bellingham Promise: “confident individuals who continuously challenge themselves.”
What are the benefits to the community and the individual students?
JESSICA: Health is not a zero-sum game. It is not like when one of us is healthy, the other is less healthy. In fact the opposite is true. When we are all healthier, we are all better off. Healthy children miss fewer days of school; a class full of healthy students can learn more during the school year. Healthy adults miss less work, are better able to care for their families, and contribute their skills and passion to our society.
Aside from school food, what are some other future initiatives pertaining to wellness in our schools?
JESSICA: Some of the big areas of work include addressing inequity and its impact on health; building a strong structure of health education; and writing and implementing a wellness policy. I look forward to addressing the social-emotional health of our students and also staff wellness. I am pleased to have friends, neighbors and community members who are as eager as I am to focus on these important topics.