Geek Out: Wellness Policy 101

Just hearing the word “policy” may put you to sleep. Or, it might perk you up. Either way, if you want to get involved in school health, it helps to understand school wellness policies and why they are important.

Local wellness policies (LWPs) are an important tool for parents, school districts and schools in creating a culture of health at school where our kids are healthy and ready to learn. School districts are required to have a policy on health, called a district wellness policy. Some individual schools also choose to develop their own separate guidelines around wellness, called school wellness policies. A Local Wellness Policy (LWP) is required for every district that participates in the National School Lunch Program and must address how each school in the district will implement nutrition, physical activity, and other health related programs and practices.

As you are working to create a culture of health at your school, building your work into the LWP in your district is a great way to make sure (1) your successes stick, and (2) they get implemented in every school in the district!

Become a Wellness Policy Pro

Parents can get involved at the district level, the individual school level or both. Here’s how:

Find and read your district’s policy and any guidelines that exist for your individual school. Look for this information online, in a family or parent handbook or ask for it in the school office.

Pay attention to the policy language. Does it “suggest,” “encourage,” “recommend” or use language like “Schools may…”? Or is it stronger: “Schools will…”, “Schools must…” etc.?

Ask questions. You’ll want to find out answers to questions like: Who wrote the policy? When was it developed? Has it ever been evaluated? Who is responsible for its implementation? Are teachers and parents aware of the policy or guidelines? Are the policy goals included in the School Improvement Plan?

Use the policy or school guidelines as a platform for the projects you want to implement. Talk about the wellness policy goals your project will help to meet when you’re looking for support.

Promote the policy and your school’s wellness practices. Offer to develop materials to create community awareness and buy-in on the policy itself as well as your school’s wellness initiatives. Use signage, brochures, newsletter articles and website promotions.

The real value of a policy is when it is adopted and put in place to ensure all the healthy student initiatives your school implements are sustained for generations!

Our wellness policy is collecting dust.

If your district or school wellness policy is not being implemented, you’re not alone. Although each district is required to have a policy, there is no funding or method of enforcement, so sometimes policies exist on paper only.

If your school hasn’t been meeting all of its wellness policy goals, approach school leaders and position your school health team’s suggested initiatives as a positive way to start moving the bar in this area.  Be empathetic about how many tasks schools have on their plates and offer to help. Don’t make it “just another thing” for teachers to take on. Align your team’s plan with top priorities for school administrators. Help administrators understand that healthy students will do better academically.

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