Program targets policy changes in local schools

For the past decade, a collaborative effort called the Kent County Coordinated School Health Program has been helping schools create a healthier school environment.

“The purpose of the program is to engage schools and build awareness about how they can make their school environment healthier for their students,” said Stephanie Marino, who directs the program from the Kent/MSU Extension Service.

Schools volunteer for the program, which centers on getting students to eat more nutritious meals and be more physically active throughout the day.

“We really emphasize policy changes in the schools,” said Marino.

One example is for schools to reverse the tradition of holding recess after lunch.

“Most kids want to get outside to play after lunch. They’ll speed through lunch and may not eat everything on their plates,” she said.

KCCSHP began a decade ago at the high-school level but turned to elementary grades more recently.

Joining the effort are the nutritionists and nurses of Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kent County Health Department, Spectrum Health’s Healthier Communities, YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids and United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

To qualify, at least half of the students must be eligible for a free or reduced lunch to meet the requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food-stamp program, which supports the initiative. The Michigan Department of Human Services and MSU’s nutrition program administer the USDA funds.

“We’ve had stable funding because we have such strong partnerships in the community. … With the USDA food stamp and nutrition program, I receive in-kind support from our partners. So their effort turns into time and turns into federal dollars that we can draw down,” said Marino.

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