School Wellness Champion: Daniel marascia
3K-5th Grade PE Teacher // Long Island
WHAT do you believe when it comes to schools supporting children’s health and well-being? How does this belief connect to your core values or life experiences? Has it changed over time - how and why?
I feel that a school's obligation is to educate children in all areas of life, including health and well-being. Health is no longer defined as the way a person feels, but it is their physical, mental, and social well-being. A school is responsible to educate, supply, and maintain their student’s health while they attend. This idea that schools are just academic institutions with specific subject areas to pass is a myth. A school that nurtures a student using health as a key component will develop more fundamentally sound students… If students have the resources, support, and knowledge of healthy eating habits they will fuel their minds and be more receptive to learning… Everyone who eats healthy and exercises feels more confident in themselves, prouder of who they are, and will develop a better relationship with the society around them.
WHY do you believe that school wellness needs to be a priority? WHY does it matter to you?
I take the responsibility of being a health advocate at my school very seriously. I am committed to helping students become healthier people of society. I work in a high poverty and high English as a New Language (ENL) student population. People of the community might overlook the benefits of what it means to be healthy. I try and provide as many resources as possible, not only for my school but for the surrounding community. At my school I have full support of my administration. I travel from Long Island to one of the poorest performing districts in the city because I care. I concern myself with the youth of our city because in years to come they will be the working class of society. I want to make sure that they have the proper education to be successful and that starts with their own health.
Is the school you work in a “healthy school”? What are some of its successes and challenges?
My school is considered a healthy school by the Excellence in School Wellness, Alliance for Healthier Generation, and Let's Move Active Schools. I provide a morning program based around physical activity. The idea is to have students come to school early and participate in physical activities. This helps students function better when they get to class. They are awake, alert, and ready to learn after they attend the program. Along with this morning program I have an after school athletic program. This includes a boys and girls basketball team and a co-ed soccer team. These teams play surrounding schools in an organize league design by me. We even play at the Barclays Center once a year.
Another step in being a healthier school is having us recognized as a Move-to-Improve (MTI) All Star school. This means eighty percent of our teachers are trained in MTI, and are encourage to use it daily in the classrooms. I am the schools MTI Champion. I provide support on MTI usage and have gone to classrooms to demonstrate to teachers… The program integrates movement into the teachers’ lessons without taking away from instructional time. Though these accomplishments are good, there is still work to be done. Success are good, but challenges are what drive me. I want to see all my students demonstrating healthier practices… I look for those students who are not practicing health habits and try to inform and influence their future choices.
Describe a challenge or supportive experience (related to health and well-being) that you have seen a child/children encounter while in school.
A challenge that we face is the easy access for our students to purchase unhealthy foods from local bodegas. The sugary, fatty, high sodium foods are extremely cheap and right in front. I rarely see any of the healthy foods in front if at all. Recently, some students have told me that they have been saving their money they would spend at the bodega to purchase a smoothie. This brought clarification to me that they are realizing good foods does not mean eating chips and cookies but drinking a nutritious beverage.
If you could talk to your legislators about school wellness what would you tell them? What would you ask them?
I wish surrounding businesses were more aware of the damaging foods they are selling to these kids. These kids should not be allowed to purchase candy, chips, sugary drinks/soda, or coffee so early in the morning. It might help businesses, but is damaging the health and education of the very youth that lives in the community.