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UFT unveils healthy schools initiative
by Micah Landau | December 16, 2010 New York Teacher issue
“Fruit salad, yummy yummy,” sang the kindergarten class of Bronx Representative Jose Vargas to dozens of educators gathered at the borough office on Dec. 2 for the unveiling of the UFT’s new Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities initiative.
Vargas’ kindergarteners — really his borough staff — had dressed for the occasion as life-size representations of their favorite fruits, vegetables and candies to put on a laugh-out-loud presentation on the importance of healthy eating, one theme of the new initiative.
Through the Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities initiative, educators from 13 Bronx schools will learn how to incorporate nutrition and physical activities into their lessons. The initiative is a partnership between the UFT, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Bronx Borough President’s Office, the NAACP Parkchester Branch, the Food Bank For New York City and the Strategic Alliance for Health.
The goal of the project is to get educators, students and parents involved in school-based wellness programs in order to create a healthy environment for the entire school community, said Lisa Lau, a UFT safety and health associate.
Sheronda Perrino, a paraprofessional at CS 66, said she hopes that more exercise and better nutrition will help her students concentrate and get them into better physical condition.
“A lot of students are tired,” she said. “They eat too much sugar.”
At least five early-grade classes in each school will participate in Cookshop for Classroom, a program of the Food Bank For New York City. Educators have already attended workshops during which they cooked as well as learned about nutrition, and are now prepared to introduce an 18-week curriculum in which every third class they will cook with students.
Parents in the 13 schools will participate in Cookshop for Families, a six-week Food Bank program that will teach parents how to cook healthier meals.
First-grade teacher Jane Drexel, from CS 61, said she is participating because of the relationship between nutrition and learning.
“We want to make sure that our children have the best opportunities,” Drexel said. “If you start with them when they are young, it can have a lasting impact.”
CS 61 2nd-grade teacher Marcelline Jackson noted that eating healthier is expensive. “People will buy what they can afford,” she said. “If we can show them through Cookshop that it doesn’t have to be that way, maybe they’ll do it.”
At least six kindergarten through 3rd-grade classes in each school will also participate in the Move to Improve program (jointly sponsored by the DOE and the Department of Health), which trains teachers to implement 10-minute physical activity breaks with their students and to integrate them into all areas of classroom academics three times a day.
The project is supported by a $25,000 grant recently awarded to the UFT by Bronx Health REACH. Each of the 13 schools that successfully implements the school-based wellness programs will receive $500 to spend on new gym equipment.