what is a wellness policy?
Every school is different, but every child deserves a safe, supportive environment to learn.
Local wellness policies are an important way for parents, students, school personnel, and community members to work together to develop policy that truly addresses student needs.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a local school wellness policy is a written guideline to help school districts create healthy school environments.
If a school district participates in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and/or the School Breakfast Program (SBP), it must have a local school wellness policy (7 CFR210.31(c)).
Why do we need a New York state model school wellness policy?
We know how important it is to support student learning, and we believe that the environment where learning happens is just as important.
Compared to other states, New York ranks near the bottom in policies that address the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of our school communities (LINK).
A state local wellness policy creates a roadmap for districts and schools to address wide-spread health disparities affecting students.
These policies can also help establish school environments that provide safe and positive school climate, while also comprehensively attending to our students’ needs.
There’s no other state like New York. Our wellness policies should reflect that, too.
Our model school wellness policy needs to address what matters most to New Yorkers by tackling issues like mental and emotional health, focusing on health disparities, emphasizing farm-to-school efforts, and much more.
That’s where the WELL Campaign comes in.
is this just another mandate?
No! Federal law requires that all school districts have a wellness policy. You can read more about the Federal guidelines for local school wellness policy here (LINK).
To envision how WELL Campaign's priorities intersect with federal policy, think of the federal regulations as the blueprint.
Together, with parents, students, school personnel, and community members, we want to use the state model wellness policy to build the foundation using this federal blueprint.
Doing so draws a roadmap for how to tie the federal requirements for nutrition and physical activity to the broader health and wellness efforts that matter to New Yorkers.
Our draft legislation does not create additional state mandates – instead, it uses the federal law as the basis and reinforces it by introducing other important elements that can be included in a model policy.
The WELL campaign wants to help struggling school districts meet, then exceed the federal mandate with a focus on their particular New York community in mind.
Together, we can help build up schools into healthier, supportive environments for our kids.
Are wellness policies just about healthy eating and physical activity?
Wellness policies foster the growth of healthy kids by helping schools address both student well-being and achievement.
Imagine a school that not only served nutritious lunches, but also taught students where their food came from.
Picture a PE class that not only taught teamwork, but also helped students learn how their bodily systems worked as a team to keep them going.
While healthy eating and physical activity are required, a comprehensive wellness policy also provides support and resources to address academic, physical, mental, social, and emotional health.
If federal mandates are the blueprints, then district wellness policies are the sturdy foundation, providing the framework to connect the dots between these different elements.
Student success cannot be separate from student health.
Don’t school districts need resources to make these policies come to life?
Absolutely. The State Education Department has identified target school districts that need additional focus and support, and an investment of $10M could help support these schools with their wellness policy implementation.
For example, a district that wants to support policy implementation may want to hire a wellness coordinator to plan, design, administer, and evaluate a comprehensive wellness program for the communities’ students, staff, and families.
In another district that may want to develop their physical education program, the funds can support new equipment in the gym or professional development for teachers to enhance their activity offerings.
For the district school that wants to expand their farm-to-school relationships and support locally sourced foods, districts can support growing school gardens and enhancing school kitchens to ensure that they can help kids eat well.
While these are just a few of the many examples of how districts can support their schools in implementing strong, comprehensive wellness policies, imagine the possibilities.
How do I learn more about my district’s wellness policy?
You can learn more about your school district’s wellness policy by visiting the district website and looking at their “Policies” section.
Otherwise, call your local school district office and ask how to access their wellness policy.
Who is supporting this campaign?
We are excited to work with the following campaign partners:
American Farmland Trust/FINYS
American Heart Association
Children’s Defense Fund
Hunger Solutions New York
Institute for Family Health/Bronx Health REACH
New York City Alliance for Healthy School Food
New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
New York State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance
New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (NYSAND)
Peer Health Exchange
New York School Nutrition Association (NYSNA).
Interested in becoming a campaign partner? Learn more here.
Do wellness policies really work?
Yes! Wellness policies help cultivate a healthy school environment.
But what does that really mean?
A healthy school environment means healthier students who can learn better, perform better academically, and can concentrate for longer periods of time.
Since kids spend many of their waking hours at school, this gives schools an important role to play in their health. Policies provide guidelines toward what students learn as well as necessary resources for academic support.
However, the policies that schools put into place for food, beverages, and physical activity also have an impact on student achievement. Additionally, our learners need social and emotional care to ensure they are in the right mind state to learn, making it essential to promote a healthy school environment that addresses all of these factors through local wellness policies.
What do schools need in order to have strong, comprehensive wellness policies?
A recent report from the University of Chicago and Child Trends (LINK) shows that New York State is falling short on comprehensively addressing all elements of student success.
We must seize the opportunity to correct this by pushing for state-level policy that commits to healthier schools through model local wellness policies.
In addition to meeting the minimum federal guidelines, a strong, comprehensive wellness policy addresses elements of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Framework:
- Health Education
- Physical Education & Activity
- Nutrition Environment & Services
- Health Services
- Counseling, Psychological & Social Services
- Social & Emotional Climate
- Physical Environment
- Employee Wellness
- Family Engagement
- Community Involvement
- Actively referring to the this model of healthy schools
- Measures for evaluation, reporting and improvement
Research also points to the following best practices:
(a) policies must be developed by a wide range of stakeholders to be relevant
(b) accessible to the community at large
(c) comprehensively seek to address nutrition education provisions based on evidence-based strategies
(d) include guidelines for adhering to Federal School Meal and Smart Snack standards
(e) considerations for fundraising exemption policies and limits on marketing of non-compliant foods
Have another question? Please contact us!