More than 40,000 Pennsylvania students benefit from new school personnel training on improving school nutrition and increasing physical activity for students.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity forged a strong partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Division of Food and Nutrition Services, Penn State Hershey’s PRO Wellness Center, and West Chester University’s Center for Healthy Schools to train school district personnel.
Trainings have included the Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program, moderate to vigorous physical activity training, and school wellness policy training. The The partnership between the Department of Health and the Department of Education prompted the Department of Education to apply for and secure funding from the US Department of Agriculture to provide culinary trainings aligned with Cornell’s Smarter Lunchrooms MovementExternal. Pennsylvania’s Department of Education hired eight food service workers to do assessments, make recommendations, and train staff.
By working with strong partners and using existing resources, school districts in Pennsylvania have made consistent progress in their efforts to improve nutrition and increase physical activity. Thirty staff members of 15 districts with more than 27,000 students received professional development training. These numbers are expected to increase. By June 2018, at least 48 staff in these districts will have received professional development training, potentially affecting more than 40,000 students.
Working through a six-step process, which included setting goals, forming action plans, and completing needs assessments using CDC’s School Health Index, Pennsylvania is now integrating both student and staff wellness into policy, curriculum, and practice.
- Pennsylvania’s model wellness policies reflect these efforts by including an optional school employee wellness policy and strong optional language for food offered during school hours for snacks, rewards, and classroom celebrations.
- Physical education and health standards have been revised, and districts are encouraged to align nontraditional school physical activity—like active transportation—with the standards.
- Language for school handbooks and newsletters, as well as easy-to-understand educational materials, are being created to encourage parents and school staff to use Oregon Smart Snack nutrition standards.
- Five regional culinary trainings per year, designed for school nutrition professionals, promote efficient fruit and vegetable preparation, sodium reduction and flavor development, food presentation, and Smarter LunchroomExternal strategies. Community members and local media are invited to the trainings to enjoy the same lunches as those served to students. To date, 253 school nutritionists have received instruction through these trainings.
As a result of these and other efforts, school districts are beginning to report improvements in the school environment, such as maintaining dedicated wellness coordinators at the district level, changing to non-food and activity-based fundraisers, adding fitness boosters such as activity break kits in classrooms, and strengthening parental and community support.