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Alliance Model Wellness Policy Helps Alvord Unified Stay Strong on Smart Snacks

Beginning in 2004, Congress required all schools participating in federal child nutrition programs to create school wellness policies, which set goals and outlined guidelines to help schools and districts protect and promote the health of their students.

In advance of the USDA's latest update to school wellness policy requirements, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation created a Model Wellness Policy template to set schools on the path towards meeting the government’s new guidelines.

When it was time to update its district wellness policy, Alvord Unified School District, which serves more than 19,000 students from 23 schools, worked with the Alliance to take advantage of the new tool and further engage its schools in the Healthy Schools Program’s six-step process.

“Our wellness council’s job is to move the wellness policy forward and ensure that everyone is on the same page.”

The district wellness council, which meets quarterly, is responsible for creating and updating the policy, ensuring that it aligns with state and federal standards. Patti Suppe, physical education teacher and wellness lead from Loma Vista Middle School, has been part of the wellness council since its inception 13 years ago. “It took us two years to write our first wellness policy,” she said. “We had to start from scratch and a lot of people were fighting having a policy at all so it didn’t provide a lot of guidelines.”

The council has made strides over the years to create a unified team that looks out for the interests of its diverse student body in Riverside, California. At the beginning of each school year, principals nominate one wellness lead from each school to ensure that the council represents the interests of all schools in the district. These wellness leads, in addition to representatives from child nutrition services, risk management, supporting organizations outside of the district and several parents, round out a diverse council that weighs in on the district’s policy.

“The Alliance's Model Wellness Policy was very valuable in convincing our administration that we needed to strengthen our policy.”

Director of Child Nutrition Services Eric Holliday was hired by the district in 2014 while the council was in the process of revising the policy. He’s grateful for the guidance he received from Healthy Schools Program Manager Stephanie Roberts who helped the committee bridge the Alliance’s new Model Wellness Policy with the existing district policy.

When updating the policy, school staff were most wary of removing unhealthy snacks from classroom celebrations and school fundraisers to comply with the USDA’s Smart Snacks in School standards, which went into effect in 2014. “Most of the pushback came from staff that used food sales to raise money,” Eric said. “This was an opportunity for us to provide resources for healthier fundraisers. And there are many more ways to raise money than a bake sale ‒ such as a raffle sale or a fun run."

The Alliance’s Model Wellness Policy helped Patti and Eric advocate for compliance with the USDA standards. Initially, the wellness committee rejected language requiring all foods served at school to meet the Smart Snacks standards. “But we were able to back up our guidelines with the Alliance’s Model Wellness Policy. And when we told them that we needed these changes in order to move forward with the Healthy Schools Program, they approved it,” said Patti. “It was really helpful to have the Alliance’s strength behind it.”

“Getting principals on your side is the number one key.”

Once the new policy was approved, Patti and Eric got to work providing training and resources to school staff and parents. They met with the superintendent and school principals and gave a presentations at back-to-school nights and parent teacher association meetings about why the policy was changing and how it would benefit their students’ health.

The most important part of delivering on your school wellness policy’s goals ‒ according to Patti ‒ is, “convincing the administration to get on board. You have to give them the facts and show them the data that proves kids’ academics are going to improve if we are feeding them right and they’re getting exercise.” In October, Patti became a California Center for Public Health Advocacy 2015 Guardians of Health Award winner, which recognizes her work to engage in the political process to achieve the goal of better health for all Californians.

Support for Alvord Unified School District schools is generously provided by Kaiser Permanente National Community Benefit Fund at the East Bay Community Foundation.

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