Ray Huard…..A class of third graders at Bobier Elementary School couldn’t wait to bite into the snacks being passed around the room.It was the week before Halloween, but it wasn’t candy bars or potato chips that had these kids excited.
Red grapes did it, sweet yet a little tart too, explained Amy Haessly, nutrition education and training supervisor for the Vista Unified School District.
Along with an emphasis on physical fitness, Bobier’s drive to improve the nutrition and health of its students and their families made Bobier one of six San Diego County elementary schools chosen for a three-year wellness development program by the Center for Community Health-School Wellness at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.
“Bobier is the model of how to build a wellness program and a culture of wellness to achieve student success,” Haessly said.
On the day she introduced the third-graders to red grapes, Haessly also taught them how to interpret nutrition labels on food packages, from knowing that a calorie is a measure of the energy food provides to figuring out the size of a single serving.
“This is when your math skills really help out in the real world,” Haessly told the students as she had them figure out what a half-cup single serving of macaroni and cheese would look like.
Two handfuls, was the answer.
Haessly has been training Bobier’s teachers on how to introduce lessons on nutrition into their regular class schedule in what Principal Jenifer Golden said was change in outlook “where it’s cool to eat healthy.”
“We’re already a school that’s passionate about this,” Golden said. “It’s a culture shift. We’re not there yet, but we’re making improvements every year.”
Getting picked for the UCSD program will help the school move faster and with a clear plan of action, Golden said.
The other schools picked for the UCSD program are Valencia Park and Ocean Beach elementary schools in the San Diego Unified School District, Sunset Elementary School in the San Ysidro Elementary School District, Julian Elementary School in the Julian Unified School District, and San Miguel Elementary School in the Lemon Grove School District.
To qualify, at least half of the students in a school must be receiving free or reduced lunches based on their family’s income. This year that accounts for about 77 percent of Bobier’s students, Golden said.
Each school in the program will get a variety of wellness-related services through UCSD, starting with an assessment of what they already have and their needs, said Kate Edra, UCSD program coordinator.
UCSD also will help the schools set up campus wellness councils, draft and adopt a school wellness policy, develop classroom nutrition lessons, and increase and track the students’ physical activity. The services UCSD will provide are valued at about $10,000 annually.
“After three years, we hope we can create a sustainable wellness program in this school,” Edra said of Bobier.
Bobier was chosen in part because the school has already made efforts at improving the wellness of its students and because of the enthusiasm of everyone at the school, from Golden on down, for expanding the school’s wellness efforts, Edra said.
That includes stepping up physical activity for students and teachers and replacing candy with nutritious snacks or other prizes at school events, Golden said.
The school also has structured soccer lessons at lunch led by Coast 2 Coast coaches. The lessons incorporate STEM (Science, Technology and Math) topics for students who learn best through hands-on or physical activities, Golden said.
They might learn to count while jumping rope, or improve their spelling by writing with the hands in sand, or learn about angles by playing golf, Golden said.
In addition to becoming part of the UCSD program, Bobier received a $500 “Spark Start Achievement Kit” of playground equipment like soccer balls and jumping ropes to encourage physical activities among students.
When the kids are busy playing sports or involved in other activities, they’re less likely to get into trouble, Golden said.
“The most discipline referrals at our school are during recess,” Golden said. When the kids are given an organized activity at recess, “We see fewer discipline referrals.”
Golden said her drive to partner with UCSD and push for a strong wellness program at Bobier was inspired by Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka.
Vodicka has established a district group of “wellness ninjas” to promote good nutrition and physical fitness, among other things.
“Our superintendent challenges us to lead our sites and focus on wellness and balance to increase happiness, which increases attendance and achievement,” Golden said. “The wellness ninja group are district leaders who have made goals for this year, little things like challenging employees to eat fruit and vegetables in the lounge, take the stairs and park further away to walk more.”