Creating a Healthier Food Culture in Wenatchee, Wash., Schools

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Healthy nutritional standards are vital for school districts, but the Wenatchee School District in Washington wasn’t providing the healthiest food environment it could for its 7,000-plus students.

That is, until Kent Getzin, the district’s Director of Food Services, pushed for improvements to the district’s school wellness policy.

Given that the state of Washington closely aligned with the national trend of one of three children being obese, Getzin seized the opportunity to educate school officials and parents on creating a healthier food culture in a district with a 46.2% Latino student population and 60% of students depending on free or reduced lunch.

Getzin set his sights on updating the district’s outdated nutritional standards and emphasized continual support for teachers and parents to learn about nutrition and healthy eating and ultimately improve the nutritional value of food in and out of the classroom.

EMERGENCE

Awareness: While reviewing all of its policies in the spring of 2011, Wenatchee School District officials became aware that many of their policies were outdated. Their wellness policy had not been changed in many years, and it did not reflect the nutritional improvements that were being made by many other districts across the nation.

While implementing the changes under the UDSA Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act which improved the nutritional quality of food sold in lunches during the school day and set some standards for school wellness policies, Kent Getzin, the district’s director of food services, believed they could do more.

And when the UDSA began talks of making more changes to snacks and competitive foods, Getzin wanted the district to stay ahead of the curve to have more time to gradually and successfully make changes.

Learn: While reviewing their current wellness policy, district officials discovered inconsistent enforcement across school campuses. Officials began looking online at other districts’ polices to see the latest trends in improved nutritional standards. They soon focused on model policies published by the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA), which releases these model policies to assist schools in navigating changes being made both nationally and within their districts.

Frame Issue: “You can see by observing students at the school that childhood obesity has reached our district. You can just see that a lot of kids are overweight,” Getzin said.

The childhood obesity rate for the state of Washington is 29.5% for students aged 10-19. About half of the students in the Wenatchee School District are Latino, and they tend to have higher rates of childhood obesity than other groups. Also, half of the district’s students depend on the free and reduced meal program, which Getzin said made it clear to him that the district needed to create policies with improved nutritional standards for a healthy food culture within their schools to promote health and educate students.

DEVELOPMENT

Education/Mobilization: To develop a thorough wellness policy, Getzin began to meet with educators, parents, and teachers to talk about the issue of childhood obesity and poor nutrition standards in their district. They soon formed a Wellness Committee that met frequently between Fall 2011 to Spring 2012. Revising the wellness policy began in Fall 2012.

For the rest of the academic school year, Wellness Committee members met with Getzin to review other successful policies from other schools and assessed what was happening within their own school district.

Debate: The wellness policy committee discussed the issues and what changes could be made within their district. They decided to create a wellness policy that would cover many issues that affect the way food is used within their schools, such as regulating food use in the classroom, changing vending machines, discouraging things like birthday parties that would compete with the school provided lunch, and many other changes that would create a healthier district.

The committee members also determined that the most important issue within their district was how to make the change important to district leaders and how to make the changes achievable for them. Providing immense support and resources to teachers and parents would be vital to the success of the policy changes for Wenatchee School District.

ENACTMENT

Activation/Frame Policy: Getzin began going to schools, PTA meetings, school board meetings, and classrooms to explain the upcoming changes. He hoped this effort would garner support from teachers and faculty by gently introducing and explaining the changes in advance of implementation.

Although there was some initial push-back from teachers because implementing new changes in the classroom seemed like a weighty task for already busy educators, Getzin continued to reach out to as many people as possible about how these changes could improve the health of future generations. Getzin and the Wellness Committee members spent the 2011-2012 school year visiting schools, teachers, principals, and school leaders to discuss the new wellness policy.

Change: The school board voted to implement the new district wellness policy at a meeting in June 2012.

Getzin, who attended the meeting, said the wellness committee’s efforts to explain and promote the policy made its approval much easier. The new wellness Policy now included regulations and guidelines, such as new classroom rules about food and food tasting events, that encouraged overall healthy food choices and active lifestyles for all students within the Wenatchee School District.

IMPLEMENTATION

Implementation: The district implemented the new wellness policy in Fall 2012 as the school year began. The implementation was gradual. Although the new regulations and rules were technically in effect, they were continuing to be introduced to teachers and school leaders through resources and continued support.

The new policy was there to create a new attitude about food and a new food culture within the school district, emphasizing the need to create a healthier generation of students, Getzin said. Within the new policy these changes were made:

  • eliminating chocolate milk from the cafeteria;
  • not using food or candy as a reward in the classroom;
  • limiting classroom birthday parties to once a month;
  • elimination of soda from vending machines;
  • changing the timing of classroom parties/treats (away from lunchtime);
  • adding healthier items in school stores and vending machines;
  • considering cultural diversity of the student body when planning meals;
  • school fundraising activities, if involving foods, must meet nutritional standards and are encouraged to involve locally grown fruits and vegetables; and
  • having a harvest-of-the-month item from a local produce provider, which helps provide students a balanced, healthy meal made fresh and from as many local ingredients as possible.

Equity/Sustainability: To ensure the new changes continue to be enforced and in time become routine, Getzin and the wellness committee will continue to distribute resources that educate teachers how to follow the policy. These resources include ideas for recipes to send home with parents for healthy treats to bring in, rewards that are not food related, holiday theme party crafts and activities, reminding teachers of what foods are allowed in the classroom, ideas for healthy fundraisers, providing ideas of ways to celebrate student birthdays while still supporting healthy school lunches, and promoting activity and healthy food culture in the classroom.

Getzin and the Wenatchee school district emphasize giving as much assistance and encouragement to teachers because they recognize the dedication and hard work they do to educate students.

By continually offering support and resources to teachers, it is hoped that these policy changes will begin to transform the childhood obesity issue in the Wenatchee school district.

This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

 ABOUT THE PROGRAM

Salud America! The RWJF Research Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program aims to educate researchers, decision-makers, community leaders, and the public in contributing toward healthier Latino communities and seeking environmental and policy solutions to the epidemic of Latino childhood obesity. The network is directed by the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

For more information, visit http://www.salud-america.org.

By The Numbers By The Numbers

22

percent

of Latino youth have depressive symptoms, more than any other group besides Native American youth

This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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