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TODAY’S COLUMN: FRESH - Fauquier Reaches for Excellence in School Health

I love to drive around Fauquier County and see young children playing outside. As a lifelong baseball fan, I also love to catch sight of a pre-teen playing catch with his dad. And, for me, there’s nothing quite like sitting in the bleachers on a fall night to watch a good high school football game.

There’s just something about seeing kids in action – especially when we live in an age of nationwide concern about childhood obesity and inactivity.

It is my great privilege to serve as superintendent of Fauquier County Public Schools (FCPS), and I am excited to be part of a school division that wants to support a culture of health and fitness for our students and employees.

I am thrilled to share the news that something exciting and FRESH is happening in our schools: FRESH is an acronym for Fauquier Reaches for Excellence in School Health, and this program is one that has the potential to be life-changing for our students and employees.

In the fall of 2014 the PATH Foundation invited us to go with them to visit Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools to check out their School Health Improvement Plan, or SHIP, in action. We came back energized and excited to begin a similar program here.

In 2015 the PATH Foundation awarded FCPS a one-year planning grant to develop our own school-based health program. FRESH was birthed, and we formulated a five-year implementation plan. This year we are initiating that plan in a pilot program in kindergarten through second-grade in all of our 11 elementary schools.

Each year we will expand the program to include more grades until, by the fifth year, every grade through 12 is included.

We want students to experience positive health messaging and support in the classroom, cafeteria, after-school settings, home settings, and community settings – ultimately helping our students live healthier lifestyles evidenced by their knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors when it comes to healthy eating and active living.

FRESH will involve various components – from incorporating physical movement into instruction to improving cafeteria equipment (for example, replacing fryers with steamers) to helping students make healthier food choices.

Thanks to a $664,000 grant from the PATH Foundation, we are able to implement FRESH without cost to citizens; the grant covers salaries, equipment, transportation, etc.

This past August we hired the person who will oversee FRESH. Her name is Jessica Lesefka, and she has hit the ground running. Working with Jessica are four Fitness Integration Team (FIT) teachers:  Shannon Cox, Cecilia Dohn, Kara Hallet, and J.R. Royston.

They began by working on lesson plans to help them integrate physical activity into the general education program. The whole idea is for the FIT teachers to go into a classroom and use physical activity to help students reinforce their core understanding of academic standards (Standards of Learning, or SOLs) through motion and through use of locomotor skills that the students are learning in their P.E. classes.

For example, since first-graders work on skipping in P.E., the classroom activity might involve skipping, but would not involve, say, the 100-yard dash since that’s not a locomotor skill students in first grade would be working on in P.E.

Here is one example we actually saw used at the Williamsburg elementary school we visited:  The first-grade class had just learned to tell analog time. Williamsburg’s equivalent of a FIT teacher (they go by another name in that school division) came into the classroom during math and took the students outside and gave them cards depicting a clock on one side and the corresponding time on the other.

Students began skipping and when the teacher said stop, the students showed their card to a nearby classmate who had to tell what time it showed. If the student got it right, that student kept the card; otherwise the initial student kept the card and skipped away. The students skipped for one half hour! They were outside, skipping, laughing, and all the while doing a reinforcement activity for telling time.

This is but one component of FRESH.

Others include upgrading cafeteria equipment for healthier food preparation, adding programs to educate staff and students about nutrition, and increasing healthy offerings in the cafeteria. The program also features after-school clubs (with transportation).

As time passes, you will read and hear more about the exciting and meaningful FRESH activities in our schools, made possible through the generosity of the PATH Foundation. The possibilities are truly endless! 

The preceding article by Dr. David Jeck, Fauquier County Public Schools division superintendent, appears in the October edition of the Warrenton Lifestyle magazine. The topic of the article is the $664,000 FRESH grant from the PATH Foundation; the grant funds the first year of a five-year plan to improve nutrition and increase movement for students in Fauquier County Public Schools.

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