Rural School District Goes “All Hands on Deck” with Wellness and Farm to School

Here in Nebraska, our Farm to School pilot program is working with Norris School District in Firth, Neb. Norris was an early adopter of Farm to School. It is an excellent example of what happens when a district makes a commitment to healthy students.

Dr. John Skretta, administrator of the Norris School District, says, “Healthy students learn better because they eat better.” He kicked off the Center’s most recent Farm to School Regional Conference with a powerful keynote outlining the value-added education students received after the district made a firm commitment to wellness.

Norris’ team of school educators and staff echoed these sentiments: Norris is committed to the health of their students. It began with a 5th grade school garden project. Then came local food sourcing in the cafeteria. Adding fresh foods to the Family and Consumer Science curriculum and to FFA and FCCLA activities was a natural progression. In a stellar move, the school went one step further. They approached a local dairy to find out how they could bring fresh, local milk to school lunches.

The team of administrators and educators saw the “big picture” of how farm to school activities affected healthy habits of the students – both mentally and physically. Early on Dr. Skretta called for an “all hands on deck” approach. He involved key people supporting the school’s local wellness policy. In fact, Jane Hansmeyer, a project director with their Educational Service Unit, became their wellness guru. Jane recently received the Nebraska Safety Council’s Wellness Champion Award.

Here’s a closer look at the importance of school Wellness Policies from the Chef Ann Foundation.

Each local educational agency that participates in the National School Lunch Program or other federal Child Nutrition programs is required by federal law to establish a local school wellness policy for all schools under its jurisdiction.

Local Wellness Policies (LWP) establish the school's role as a promoter of student health, physical activity, obesity prevention, and nutrition awareness and education. They provide a distinct framework for communities to address and support childhood health and wellness in their schools.

Wellness policies are unique in that they require action, cooperation, and implementation by a number of stakeholders: the administration, the educators themselves, the food services department, the parents, and the broader community. These policies have the potential to be groundbreaking if parents, district administrators, principals, teachers, and the food service directors are all at the table working together.

Parents play a crucial role in creating healthy school cultures. Local Wellness Policies give them recourse to voice their questions, concerns, and ideas about improving childhood health at school.

For specific action items and resources that provide more information on how to assess your school's Wellness Policy, visit the Chef Ann Foundation Wellness Campaign.

In Norris School District’s case, these policies were, indeed, groundbreaking. The school, the parents, and the community have come behind this dynamic effort with excitement, enthusiasm, passion, and pride in the overall health and wellness of their students and community.

You can find out more about creating a wellness policy
In Nebraska: Department of Education School Local Wellness Policy Resources  
Nationwide: Action for Healthy Kids Wellness Policy Tool

For more information about the Center's Farm to School Initiative, contact me, Sandra Renner, at sandrar@cfra.org or Sarah Smith at sarahs@cfra.org.

Feature image: Former First Lady of Nebraska Sally Ganem visits the Norris Greenhouse and gardens, pictured with 2 ag students.