Jersey City Public Schools have implemented effective changes such as grab-and-go options and breakfast after the bell which has led to an eight percent increase in participation each year since 2013. This year, seven Jersey City schools have been recognized by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation for being among America’s Healthiest Schools.
By Franklin Walker, Associate Superintendent, Jersey City Public Schools
For the past 43 years, I’ve held positions within the Jersey City Public Schools. It’s been a long time since I was in school, but I like to start my day as our students do ‒ by walking the halls.
The first thing I see when I walk into a school is students fueling their bodies with a healthy meal. In Jersey City Public Schools, we’ve added breakfast after the bell and grab-and-go options to make breakfast easier and more accessible. Thanks to these efforts, participation in our school breakfast program has steadily risen by eight percent each year since 2013!
I am proud that our district strives to provide our kids with a high-quality education, but I’m equally proud that we work just as hard to equip kids with the tools they’ll need to lead happy, healthy lives. As a result of our commitment to health, seven of our schools were recognized earlier this year by the Alliance for a Healthier for being among America’s Healthiest Schools.
We’re grateful for this recognition, which comes after many years of hard work. A growing body of research shows that practices like a healthy breakfast and regular physical activity aren’t just good for kids’ health; they can actually improve academic performance. So we’ve taken a series of innovative steps to make the entire school day healthier from start to finish:
We focused on getting active. Teachers lead physical activity programs before the bell to get students moving from the minute they walk into the school building. We also enacted a new policy ensuring that all of our elementary school students have recess every day.
We made healthy food the norm. Many of our schools have planted gardens so that students learn how to actually grow the food they eat. The vegetables from our gardens have made their way into our cafeterias, where students enjoy them every day ‒ that’s especially exciting for our children who’ve spent their whole lives in an urban environment. We’ve also added a dinner meal service for students who participate in our extended school day program. Now, we can offer students three healthy and well-balanced meals each school day.
We involved the community. Our schools host health fairs that connect community organizations and families to empower them to access available health resources right in their neighborhoods. One of our goals in teaching our students to be healthy is for them to carry these habits home to their families, too.
We believe schools can and should be the driving force behind positive health change, but we also need help. A few years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated nutrition standards for school meals that today are being implemented successfully in nearly 100 percent of New Jersey schools. Research shows that the standards are working ‒ meals are healthier and students are enjoying them ‒ and polling shows that parents nationwide support them. At every level of government, we can support maintaining and strengthening those standards, and provide districts with the resources needed to continue successful implementation.
We’re so proud of what we’ve accomplished in Jersey City, but nothing would make us happier than seeing our success replicated in every school district across America!