"This is really wellness policy 101," said Mickey Belosi, supervisor of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's food services, who conducted the regional wellness policy training Tuesday.
Along with DESE staff, the Department of Health and Senior Services and University of Missouri Extension are working this summer to provide six regional workshops for local school officials.
Before school starts in August, all school districts are required by federal law to have a formal wellness policy that focuses on goals for nutrition education, physical fitness and other school-based activities designed to promote and protect students' health.
Specifically, all schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program or Special Milk Program must adopt a local wellness policy, and this includes public and private schools. Districts will have to set nutrition guidelines for all foods that are available to students during the day on each school campus.
"Schools have been doing this anyway, and now this is a way to pull it all together to provide health and wellness," Belosi said. "They can look for some new direction and this gives them ideas about it."
Throughout the four-hour workshop, Belosi and participants -- who ranged from school food service workers and nurses to teachers and administrators -- discussed what the law requires, Eat Smart Guidelines and funding wellness.
Then participants broke out into three 30-minute sessions to discuss evaluating a plan, physical activity, other school-based activity, nutrition education, tobacco policy and environmental health.
Paul Stolle, director of Chartwells Dining Service, said the workshop was a great tool to help administrators. Sikeston R-6, Kelly and Portageville are among local school districts that contract Chartwells to provide food services in their schools.
"One of the questions we have is after developing a nutrition program, how do we measure it and where do we go from there," Stolle said.
Stolle said Chartwells already has a balanced choice program in place that goes a step further than the state's basic plan; however, each district's school board must create its own wellness policy.
Registered nurse Nikki Vaught, health services coordinator for Sikeston R-6, said she's excited about increasing wellness awareness in the schools and community.
"We're already doing the healthy education individually; now it will just be in bulk," said Vaught, who is also a member of the district's local wellness advisory committee.
Plans for the upcoming school year include displaying health information on individual bulletin boards in all cafeterias of the schools for students, staff and members of the community to see, Vaught said. Also in development is a rewards program for staff members, she said.
Parents will be able to visit the district's Web site, www.sikeston.k12.mo.us, and click on "health services" to find more on healthy habits and exercise.
Belosi said overall feedback about the policy has been pretty positive from school officials and most school districts already have their local policies in place.
One common concern Belosi said she's noticed is school officials worried there won't be more money to implement their policies.
"But there are things they can do without necessarily costing a lot of money," Belosi said.
For example, Gov. Matt Blunt announced Monday that state agencies are working to help local school districts develop and implement policies to promote better nutrition, fitness and health among Missouri schoolchildren. The joint effort is funded by a $64,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded to DESE.
As part of the project, 10 school districts will be selected to receive $5,000 mini-grants to help them implement model policies and activities.
"The purpose (of the policy) is to improve the health of kids and reduce the obesity rate," Belosi said.
Brenda Freed, educator of Scott County Health Department and co-facilitator of Tuesday's workshop, agreed.
"Healthy habits make healthier students, and healthier students can perform better in school," Freed said.