Whether or not John Denver’s lyrics linger in your head at the sight of “rocky” and “mountain” together, you might say Rocky Mountain Elementary School’s new, and numerous, wellness initiatives shine like fire in the sky. From Harvest Days to healthy snack bar incentives, healthy cooking classes for parents to similar classes designed for families, the school has some serious momentum going. Principal Jill Fuller couldn’t be more pleased. “We know healthy, well-fed students perform better in the classroom when their nutritional needs are met,” she says. “The programs we are implementing will go a long way to building awareness of healthy lifestyles that will serve students for their lifetimes.”
This academic year, Rocky Mountain Elementary will be creating a school wellness plan, beginning with a School Wellness Policy Assessment Principal Fuller will be conducting this fall. By the time results are in, quite a few health-minded initiatives will already be firmly in place to help guide next steps. Last spring, SVVSD Nutrition Services Director Shelly Allen approached the school about the opportunity to offer a healthy cooking class geared for parents at Rocky Mountain Elementary. The year previous, Allen and her team began programming for teen parents as part of a grant from Chef Ann Foundation. She developed a partnership with Cooking Matters, a nonprofit whose mission is to combat food insecurity by providing education on eating and preparing healthy meals on a budget. “Seeing the whole program evolve was really exciting,” Allen says. “It was really inspiring to think of all the ways we could explore the potential of this partnership, within and outside of the grant.”
“Our school offers universal free and reduced lunch, yet we were noticing issues of food waste,” Principal Fuller says. “Efforts were made to consistently offer fresh fruits and vegetables, but waste continued to be a problem.” It was determined that perhaps a more positive impact might be made by reaching out to parents. The SVVSD-Cooking Matters class provided parent participants with education on a range of nutrition topics followed by hands-on cooking. Parents were sent home with a recipe and a full bag of groceries with which to make it. “Reception was great,” Fuller says. “The parents asked for more. So, this year we are offering the parent class again, and also planning classes for families, wherein parents and kids can work to create nutritious meals together.Cooking Matters is wonderful, so easy to work with, and Nutrition Services are offering fantastic support.”
In addition to classes, Fuller is working on new policies to help cultivate a strong food culture of health. She is working on devising limits on amounts of foods brought in from outside, such as juice drinks. Last year, the school began marking special events, such as Halloween or Valentine’s Day, with celebratory breakfasts instead of end-of-day parties. “This change helps us to focus on the instructional day while still being festive,” Fuller says. “It also makes it a lot easier to promote healthy options. Kids bring in cultural food; we have seen pre-wrapped breakfast burritos, homemade horchata, fruits. Morning celebrations naturally reduce cookies and cupcakes.”
Throughout the year, a structure is being consciously facilitated to promote healthy habits at RME in a fun, encouraging manner. Beginning second semester, fourth and fifth grade students will have the opportunity to earn special healthy snack bar items, offered by Nutrition Services. “If our older students eat 85% of their home-packed lunch or tray, they’ll have the option to buy a healthy snack,” Fuller explains. “They can consume these in afternoon classes at their discretion. It’s healthy, but it’s snack food, and it’s naturally motivating.”
Rocky Mountain will also begin celebrating three Harvest Days this school year. Originally offered at Flagstaff Academy as part of a grant from the Chef Ann Foundation, Harvest Days are brought about at various schools (six as of this year) thanks to collaborative efforts by SVVSD Nutrition Services, parent-led group St. Vrain Healthy Kids, and Boulder County Farmers Market. Fresh produce from local Ollin Farms and others is showcased in raw and prepared forms in joyful celebrations kids can really sink their teeth into. For Harvest Days, Nutrition Services also offers free Salad Bar Days, and brings in a mobile salad bar in instances where schools do not have on permanently in place.
Feeding Harvest Day concepts, literally and figuratively, SVVSD Nutrition Services will be providing classes with container gardens in spring, which teachers can incorporate into curriculum. Items grown will be incorporated into the cafeteria. “Cooking classes and container gardens are among numerous strategies we’re looking at to increase awareness of healthy living,” says Fuller. “But the real driving force behind growing them is our community. Our parents are super receptive to all the ideas we have, and support the process of rolling out initiatives. If we need volunteers, such as manning Harvest Day stations or watering container gardens, they are right there.”
We love the way you are planting seeds for healthy learning, Rocky Mountain! Keep up the inspiring work!