In her first two weeks as the Providence Public School District’s Wellness Coordinator, Jennifer Quigley-Harris has visited six elementary schools, joined Breakfast in the Classroom, stood in the cafeteria line and eaten lunch with students, and accompanied the Walking School Bus on its morning run at Fogarty Elementary School.
Promoting healthy eating and physical activity are integral components of her role as she works to communicate and implement the district’s Wellness Policy as its first wellness coordinator. A member of the district’s Wellness Committee, Quigley-Harris spent more than a year helping to craft the policy for all of the district’s public schools.
The Wellness Policy is designed to actively promote the health and well-being of the district’s students, families and staff. It was updated and adopted by the Providence School Board in November 2013 and is required for all school districts participating in the federal School Lunch Program as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The latest version of the policy not only reflects federal and state requirements for the school lunch and breakfast programs, but also reflects standards for other foods available through schools such as vending machines and special events, and recommends increased physical activity beyond physical education classes.
Quigley-Harris will support that mission, serving as the point person for the district and its families regarding questions or suggestions about the policy and its implementation in order to improve student achievement. She will also work to ensure that PPSD is in current compliance with the policy as federal and state regulations evolve.
Wellness is a priority for the Providence School Board since Rhode Island law requires that every district’s Wellness Committee be chaired by a School Board member; member Phanida Phivilay chairs the committee.
All types of food offered in schools, from school breakfasts and lunches to vending machines to school celebrations, must fall within guidelines of the Wellness Policy.
Quigley-Harris has been visiting schools and meeting with principals, school nurses, physical education teachers and Sodexo staff to be sure they are aware of the policy and to share information and best practices as well as try to resolve any issues. She plans to revise the Toolkit, which was designed to assist schools in implementing the policy.
“Teaching students how to lead a healthy lifestyle is an important life skill. Eating more fruits and vegetables and increasing physical activity are the two things that can lead to better health outcomes for everyone, kids and adults. And healthier bodies mean students are coming to school every day alert, feeling good and ready to learn.”
Research shows a direct relationship between wellness and health and better academic outcomes, which is important for school performance and the path to a healthy lifestyle. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- the lack of adequate consumption of specific goods such as fruits, vegetables or dairy products is associated with lower grades among students;
- deficits of specific nutrients are associated with lower grades and higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness among students;
- student participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture School Breakfast program is associated with increased academic grades and standardized test scores, reduced absenteeism and improved cognitive performance; and
- students who are physically active tend to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance and classroom behaviors.
Enforcing the Wellness Policy at elementary schools is important, said Quigley-Harris, since healthy habits are formed at a young age. At the middle and high school levels, the implications of poor health such as strokes, diabetes and heart disease are discussed in health classes.
Quigley-Harris would love to have student representation on the district’s Wellness Committee. She also hopes to see more staff eating in school cafeterias, enjoying healthy options such as the school salad bars.
She plans to support increased physical activity in schools through special events and will work with Sodexo to support the purchase and consumption of local foods in Providence Schools.
A graduate of Connecticut College with a degree in English, Quigley-Harris has worked in communications for the Rhode Island Food Policy Council and for Kids First/Real Food First. She is a member of the Steering Committee of the Rhode Island Healthy Schools Coalition and was a member of the Newport Public Schools Wellness Committee for five years. Based on her work in wellness, Quigley-Harris was the Rhode Island Delegate to the Parenting Magazine/Georgetown University Moms Congress. She is a parent of two students in Providence Schools.
She encourages anyone with questions about the Wellness Policy or suggestions to improve school wellness to contact her at Jennifer.QuigleyHarris@ppsd.org.