Written by: Susi Jones, Executive Director of Julian Pathways
Our school-community collaborative knows that healthy schools mean healthy families, communities and students, and that healthy students make better learners. That is why our collaborative partners elected to spend an entire year working on and writing a new Local School Wellness Policy for the Julian Union Elementary School District (JUESD). The existing Wellness Policy was insubstantial and ineffective. It addressed very minimal requirements and was not exactly inspiring. In fact, no one really paid attention to it. At that time our nutrition program consisted of frozen entrees shipped from the Midwest, which in truth nurtured students neither nutritionally nor emotionally. There was little mention of many of the other supports that would eventually become core components of the new policy.
In 2011, Susi Jones, Director of Julian Pathways, the student and family support center for the district, attended the national Childhood Obesity Conference in San Diego. One of the breakout sessions, delivered by Deirdre Kleske, then a Health Educator for California Project LEAN, highlighted the need for new and improved school wellness policies. The session was motivating, so much so that Susi took the information back and shared it with Kevin Ogden, District Superintendent. She suggested to him that the Julian Backcountry Collaborative might be interested in providing the research, discussion, and hard work necessary to create a viable and progressive new policy. He agreed and they went to work.
Collaborative partners jumped at the chance to create meaningful change in student health and decided to take on the project. Partners consist of folks from all walks of life including school administrators, teachers, parents, student representatives, local agencies and organizations, and medical and government agencies. We spent one year of monthly meetings and sub-committee meetings creating, arguing, playing devil’s advocate, and inspiring each other until eventually coming to consensus. The result is a School Wellness Policy that is the right fit for our community. The new Policy was Board-approved in the summer of 2011, and the results have been a game changer for student health and wellbeing.
For example, Trish Rott, JUESD’s Nutrition Manager, brought the School Nutrition Program bid document to our monthly farm to school team meeting for review. After consulting the School Wellness Policy, she had incorporated farm to school language in the bid. One of the potential vendors dropped out because they could not meet these requirements. Another vendor said although they had no experience in farm to school, it was something they would be willing to work toward. The vendor who eventually received the contract—Jeremy’s on the Hill, a local Farm to Fork restaurant—is philosophically aligned with farm to school and excited about implementing the requirements. JUESD’s students now eat entrees cooked from scratch, produce sourced from local growers wherever possible, and enjoy Harvest of the Month items on the salad bar. Thanks to these efforts, Julian now purchases more produce per school lunch program enrollee than almost any other school district in San Diego County (ranked 3rd out of 42 districts)! All of this demonstrates that the growth in farm to school at JUESD brought on by our new school wellness policy is truly a win for our students, community, and local economy.
Of course the School Wellness Policy is a living document and implementation in all aspects is still a work in progress. The Collaborative continues to monitor the policy and works to implement strategies that encourage compliance.
Although we are a small, rural school district, collaborative involvement in the creation and monitoring of a school wellness policy is an effective approach for a district of any size. Just ask our students, who enjoy fresh, local produce and whole food lunches every school day!
About the Author: Susi Jones has been the Executive Director of the Julian Pathways Center for Families, Schools, and Community Partnerships for over 16 years. She and the Pathways staff work with many collaborative partners to provide resources and services to the students and families of the rural Julian Union School District.
Julian Pathways, part of the Julian Union School District, works together with school staff, families, public and private agencies, local businesses and community members to meet student and family needs. To learn more, please visit their website here.