For the parent or guardian who wonders whether their child is making healthy choices in the school cafeteria or changing into sneakers for gym class – you may not need to wonder anymore. It appears that students in the Chappaqua School District are consistently being trained in how to lead a healthy lifestyle. The district says they have made great strides toward creating a wholesome environment, whether in the classroom, the gym, the cafeteria, or even after hours during extracurricular activities.
Each school has unique and original ways of keeping their students fit and healthy. And although it got off to a slow start, there has been a huge reform period regarding health standards within the district over the past few years. “When I first started in the late ‘90’s, it was common to see burgers, fries, and soft drinks in the cafeteria,” said Martin Fitzgerald, head principal of Robert E. Bell Middle School, “Today, if I saw a student drinking from a soda can, it would stick out to me, because it’s just unheard of.” What the district seems to have learned is: if you offer the students a side of French fries, they will eat it and enjoy it. However, if you offer them a baked potato, they’ll eat it and enjoy it as well–just in a different way than the French fries. “This is where the district has been amazing,” said Fitzgerald, “We have excellent healthy fare here. We have taken it to another level.”
Toward Balanced Lives
Consumer science classes teach Chappaqua students how to prepare nutritious meals and lead a balanced life in terms of healthy eating and physical activity. This is where the students would learn, as per French fries vs. baked potato example, why it’s good to enjoy the baked potato and how it is beneficial for their health, when chosen over the fries.
It’s safe to say that ‘Sloppy Joe Day’ is either extinct or very rare in the Chappaqua cafeterias. However, it was not a quick transition, according the Fitzgerald. It took years of research, assimilation and nutritional education before the conversion could really be complete.
Part of that conversion is how the district embraces sustainability. Bell, Seven Bridges Middle School, and Douglas E. Grafflin Elementary School have all had a garden or greenhouse available to students. Bell students had the chance to top pizza with their very own veggies grown right in the school garden.
The district says it is taking initiative and working to embed a healthy mindset in their students at a very young age, in hopes of instilling that mindset for life. Students are encouraged to embrace community involvement and support local establishments, which makes for a healthy way to keep busy when school is out.
“Many of our students involve themselves in community service, either through school clubs such as SHARE (Students Have A Responsibility Everywhere) or on their own,” said Andrew Selesnick, former principal of Horace Greeley High School. “Their contributions to the community are just one more way that the students stay healthy of mind as well as body.”
Just as a healthy evolution has taken place within extracurricular activities and the school cafeteria, physical education has made quite the transition. With less focus on victory and more on physical health gym class in the Chappaqua district is no longer specifically for those with a competitive edge.
“Walking For Life”
“For next year, a course that previously focused on meditation techniques has been reworked and is now titled ‘Walking for Life, Mindfulness, and Relaxation’,” said Selesnick. “The change was made in response to the latest research on the value of something as simple as walking.”
District-wide, it appears that there is one common theme for the recent changes in the physical education department. There is a strong emphasis on encouraging a mind-body connection with every student. Also, Chappaqua schools want to encourage inclusion and connecting with one another–even when they are on opposing dodge ball teams during gym class…
“We make sure we don’t blur the line between physical education and coaching,” said Fitzgerald, “We want to give the students a range of exposure to a variety of activities.”
The environment of after-school sports has changed just as much as gym classes have. In the Chappaqua schools, especially in the lower grades, competition is not as much a concern as having an enjoyable and social experience is. It may be stereotypical for school athletic departments to say that they care about the “team experience” more than winning, but in the case of the lower Chappaqua schools, it appears to really be what goes on, with good reason.
“At the middle school we have a non-cut policy; we are all about inclusion and giving a range of opportunity,” said Fitzgerald. “I believe, philosophically, that having a program that highlights being active, social, and connected rather than competitive brings more kids to the team.”
Chappaqua’s lower schools believe that by taking every student who tries out for a team, they are more likely to come out of their shell and advance both physically and socially.
The more students that are encouraged to play sports while in middle school, the more that will move on to participate in high school–simple as that. This could account for the fact that, according to Selesnick, Greeley students are involved in the athletic program “in very high numbers.”
“The children are coming up more and more with awareness of sustainability and overall health,” said Fitzgerald, “It’s a K-12 experience in the district.”
Gina Faustini is in her junior year at Quinnipiac University. She is majoring in Media Studies, and worked for Ruby Media Group this past summer.