On this Blog Action Day 2012, I want to write about my involvement in the Decorah Schools Wellness Committee: How I got there, what we do, and why it’s amazing!
I grew up in Sweden where lunch is free for all children (in fact, Sweden is one of only three countries in Europe to offer free lunch to all children, regardless of income level). It was good food cooked from scratch. Always soup and Swedish pancakes on Thursdays (a Swedish tradition). We had plenty of time to eat, and we were instructed in proper table manners (including eating Continental style).
Years later, when my daughter started school in Nashville, TN, I asked if she wanted to buy food in the cafeteria – at least a few times per week. She said “No way, Jose.” It was gross, she said. So I packed a lunch – for seven years.
Then one day in the middle of seventh grade, she said she didn’t want to bring lunch from home anymore. Nobody was doing it. And it was too much effort to go all the way to the locker to get the lunch box.
I thought it was great. Packing lunches every morning takes time, something of which I can always use more!
Then I took a look at the menu on the school website. I was in shock! They were serving fast food to our kid – every day. Cheeseburgers, pizza, sloppy joes, tacos, chicken nuggets… I started asking my daughter about it and finally wiggled out of her that she was actually buying something called “a la carte.” I had never heard of this at a school (to me, this means buying something off the menu). In her case, it meant eating Pop-Tarts®, chips, and an apple for lunch every day.
I was furious.
I started doing research and came across the documentary Two Angry Moms, Janet Poppendieck’s book Free for All, and learned that every school district is required to have a “Wellness Committee.” By this time, we were living temporarily in a suburb of Milwaukee, WI, so I decided I would join the Wellness Committee wherever we ended up next.
Next was Decorah, IA, and I quickly searched out the Wellness Committee and asked could I please join? They were kind enough to let me in and then the fun began.
The Decorah Wellness Committee is composed of a fabulous group of educators, parents, students, and concerned community members who all want our kids to be as well as they can be.
We have a few different outreach programs:
- Change of the Month – A simple behavior change program designed to encourage families to make healthy lifestyle changes. It includes incentives, which are provided by monthly sponsors. We started in September and already have 66 families signed up!
- Family Events – Four times per year, we put on a wellness-related event for families in our school district. Last year’s themes included “Go for the Gold” (cooking lessons & olympic games) and “Move to Beat the Winter Blues” (complete with snowshoeing and laughter yoga).
- Teacher Education/Encouragement – This program involves meeting with the teachers once a month for a brief wellness activity. We encourage teachers to weave wellness into the curriculum and take time for themselves so they can be good role models. And they certainly are!!
All of this takes effort, time, and dedication from a group of people who have a hundred other things going on in their lives. But it pays off!
Just the other day, I received this email from one of the September winners of our Change of the Month program:
Dear Decorah Wellness group, I just wanted to give you some positive feedback that your efforts are indeed creating change. We had been drinking 2% milk, and because of the coupons for milk, we got used to 1% milk and now we’ll stick with that. Keep up the good work!
Another similar email came from a sponsor (and parent):
thank you for including us… we as a family are already switching our 2% milk to 1% this week!
And thanks to new federal guidelines, amazing food service staff, and all my friends on the Wellness Committee, we now have meals that look like this:
That’s The Power of We!