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Health is a Choice: Making a Difference in Our Schools

Improving nutrition in schools is no small task.It requires the motivation, inspiration and action of a hard working team to instill long-lasting change.

In this year’s Healthy Lifestyle Challenge, schools competed against valley cities, companies and organizations for the “Best of the Best” award. The goal for each program was to improve the health, physical fitness, and overall well-being of those within their organization.

Each entry was unique and the results impressive, and top honors went to two participating schools. “Best of the Best” was awarded to the Palm Springs Unified School District (PSUSD) for its top-notch nutrition program and the “Advocate Award” was presented to Marta Shand, Nutrition Services Site Supervisor–Desert Sands Unified School District (DSUSD).

PSUSD’s nutrition program targets students, staff and parents and includes: a “wellness policy” with guidelines for acceptable foods to be sold on campus and limiting fund raising to healthy items; a Chef in the Classroom program; after school cooking clubs; parent cooking classes; district-wide walking programs; teacher “Lunch & Learns”; and in-class Harvest of the Month curricula.

The interactive programs that Shand and her team implemented at DSUSD target students with a focus on healthy eating as part of students’ daily lives. Programs such as Breakfast and a Movie, Football Breakfast, Color Me Breakfast, and Grab n’ Go Breakfast emphasize the importance of this daily meal. Shand initiated running clubs and created and taught healthy afterschool programs such as Nutrition Bites, Cooking it Up and Earth Day at the elementary level. She brought local farmers to schools and secured a Farmers Market Cart offering fresh fruits and vegetables as part of the student lunch program.

Nutritional change is happening in Coachella Valley schools. Desert Health® is are proud to feature three individuals who are significant contributors to this change: Marta Shand, Nutrition Services Site Supervisor – DSUSD; Dr. Lenea Pollett, Nutrition Education Program Coordinator – PSUSD; and Hayden Ross, Healthy Schools Program Manager, Coachella Valley from the Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Marta ShandMarta Shand

Nutrition Services Site Supervisor–Desert Sands Unified School District

Shand has worked for the district for 5 years making significant strides in their nutrition services program.

She has a degree in nutrition and her career has included patient service management in hospital administration. She oversees 33 schools and has a point person at each school.

Shand is most proud of the fact that the image of nutrition services has changed. “We are no longer ‘the mean lunch lady.’ We have degrees in the field and professional backgrounds. We treat this like a business and our primary job is to serve our customers, the students. If we can create a fun environment and make our customers happy, while forming a connection with healthy food, then we have done our job.”

Shand credits the district’s leadership, which supports her ideas, for making things happen.  With the program’s growth, Marta now has help from a second site manager recently hired. Her goals are to keep moving forward, and to increase awareness and participation. “And to keep our customers happy.”

Fun Fact: The most popular healthy food offered at her schools? Jicama sticks served with a little chili powder and lemon.

Dr. Lenea PollettDr. Lenea Pollett

Nutrition Education Program Coordinator–Palm Springs Unified School District

Dr. Pollett has a degree in public health and has worked in education for 25 years. She was a professor of nutrition for 15 years before working with the Department of Public Health’s Network for a Healthy California. Pollett helped the department launch this program statewide and later moved into research and evaluation. Two years ago, she joined PSUSD bringing the most effective programs with her.

Dr. Pollett credits her district’s leadership for alleviating bureaucracy and allowing programs to take place in a timely and efficient matter. She likes working at the school level – in the classroom, with staff, and with afterschool programs – because she feels that the impact she is making can last a lifetime.

Hayden RossHayden Ross

Healthy Schools Program Manager, Coachella Valley–Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Ross has a master’s degree in physical education and sports administration. She began her professional career as a PE teacher moving into curriculum development where she trained teachers on new programs to keep kids active and moving. She worked in one of the nation’s largest districts, Clark County in Nevada, where she was also the point person for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

“I saw the significant progress and impact the Alliance was able to make in schools and was excited to become a part of it.” She joined the Alliance in September and is overseeing 60 of the 74 K-12 schools in all three valley districts. The program will roll out to all schools in year two. “Our training and professional development is very hands on and we want to ensure that I am an active resource for each and every school along
the way.”

The Alliance’s program includes three trainings with each school district which start this month. Among the attendees are school principals and an appointed ‘wellness champion’ who will be Ross’s point person. The first training provides an overview of the Healthy Schools program and how to develop a school wellness council. “We have found that it is best practice for the schools to develop a diverse and well-rounded student wellness council to carry on their wellness goals.” They also review each school’s inventory – where they are and where would they like to go. The second training focuses on each school’s goals and shares the Alliance’s framework for success, and the third training celebrates successes and reviews areas of improvement.

Together, these individuals and Coachella Valley schools’ nutrition services teams are positively impacting 77 schools and over 70,000 kids!

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