Implementing a Local School Wellness Policy: The Spring, Texas Experience
The Spring Independent School District serves about 34,000 students in 32 campuses in a diverse and growing district near Houston. The district’s school wellness policy covers nutrition guidelines for foods, nutrition education, physical activity and school-based activities.
The first year of the district’s school wellness policy targeted elementary schools. Cafeteria managers met with principals to discuss cafeteria environment, nutritional quality of the menus, and nutrition education in the classroom. Food service changes included switching to whole grain dinner rolls; baking reduced fat cookies; adding fresh fruit to serving lines; and switching to low fat or fat-free gravies, salad dressings and milks.
To assess the success of school wellness policy measures, at the end of each school year, the district’s school wellness coordinator distributes and collates elementary school responses to the School Health Index (SHI), a tool developed by the Centers for Disease Control. (You can learn more about the School Health Index at http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/shi/default.aspx). The district has selected the three most applicable sections from this extensive evaluation tool. Additionally, students in grades 3 through 12 complete a survey that assesses physical activity and eating behaviors. District staff members use assessment results to make changes in school-wide wellness measures.
Karen W. Cullen, Dr.P.H., R.D., Associate Professor in the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine, helps the district to develop its wellness and assessment programs and offers these insights on assessment of Spring’s food service efforts:
Spring’s school wellness policy benefi ts from the presence of a highly committed food service director who has the district’s full support. The director made sweeping changes to the elementary school menu:
--Including more fresh fruits and vegetables
--Adding foods made with whole grains
--Switching to low-fat and skim milk in the cafeterias
--Staying within the food service budget by considering the price and availability of fresh and canned produce
--Training food service personnel to “market” new items by offering free samples and explaining unfamiliar foods and dishes to students
--Modifying favorites like pizza to include healthful ingredients such as whole wheat crust, lower fat cheese and vegetables
“Although the district is utilizing a very detailed assessment tool, it really is looking for simple answers. Are kids making healthier food choices in the cafeteria? Which foods and dishes are popular and which are not? The good news is that this information is readily available from data that are included in food service monthly reports. Spring administrators and food service personnel view themselves as allies working together toward a common goal, and that has been a key to their success.”