Success Stories

Increasing Access to Healthier Food Options

School Wellness
California

Oakland Unified School District | Oakland, California

Setting the Stage: Establishing the Local School Wellness Policy

In 2012, the district formed a school wellness council to revise its wellness policy. The council included district staff, school staff, parents, and community partners from various fields (nutrition, physical education, behavioral health, and health services) who were divided into four subcommittees. Longstanding partners like the Alameda County Department of Public Health and the University of California Cooperative Extension also provided guidance on the policy.

Because of the large size of the school district, council members recognized that individual leaders were needed at each school to direct and implement health and wellness activities. The district set up a program that supported a staff member at each school to be a wellness champion and to promote healthy eating and fitness using a variety of health messages to students, their families, and other staff members.

The wellness champions received stipends through Kaiser Permanente and the SD Bechtel, Jr. Foundation to implement wellness initiatives at their schools. They identified resources and created action plans for programs and activities throughout the year. They also met as a group each quarter to share experiences and best practices, participate in wellness activities, and learn about new programs and initiatives.

Taking Action: Activities to Meet Local School Wellness Policy Goals

Nutrition Education

The district partnered with the Alameda County Public Health Department’s office of Nutrition Services to set up the Oakland Eats Garden Fresh program. Through this program, students in grades K–8 received nutrition information that directly related to the produce served in their schools. Nutrition coordinators from the health department gave schools both materials and activity ideas that fit their schedules and curricula. Some schools were visited regularly by nutrition coordinators, while others received handouts for students.

Teachers received materials that focused on the importance of eating a healthy breakfast and the consequences of unhealthy snacking. These materials included colorful classroom posters, flyers, and handouts for both students and parents. Recommended classroom activities took only 15 minutes, so they were easy to incorporate into the curriculum. The Oakland Eats Garden Fresh program was implemented in 35 schools throughout the district.

Students also participated in activities and events that introduced them to seasonal produce through the state’s Harvest of the Month program. This program gave students a chance to plant, harvest, prepare, serve, and taste new foods. Nutrition Services coordinated events such as cooking demonstrations, school garden activities, and taste tests. These activities allowed students to taste fresh produce, learn about it in class, and see it throughout the school—in gardens, in the cafeteria, and on bulletin boards.

The Harvest of the Month program also provided promotional materials such as menu templates, newsletters, and press release templates. The menu template allowed school staff to advertise breakfast and lunch menus alongside activities that tested memory and motor skills, and reinforced what students were learning in the classroom. It also included information on the health benefits of fruits and vegetables.

The press release template gave the district a way to promote activities in different schools. It could be posted on district or school websites, sent home to parents, or dropped into existing community or school newsletters.

School Meals

The district partnered with the state’s Community Alliance with Family Farmers to implement Farm to School activities. District officials worked with the district’s food service director, local farmers, and the produce industry to add more local fruits and vegetables to school meals. A grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture helped the district identify local produce along with vendors and farmers to supply these products. Through this program, the district has increased the amount of fruits and vegetables offered to students while keeping its food costs low.

Community Partnerships

The district worked with community partners to set up the Oakland Fresh School Produce Markets, where local families could buy food from local farmers and other distributors once a week at 22 elementary schools. Partners included the county health department, the nonprofit East Bay Asian Youth Center, and parents.

The markets offered fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, grains, beans, and other healthy foods at affordable prices. They also taught students and their families about community supported agriculture, which is a member-based system in which people can buy shares of produce from local farmers. This program was funded by the California Endowment, a private health foundation. Markets at each school were run by one paid staff member and adult volunteers.

Accomplishments

The district’s efforts resulted in more access to healthier food options for students and their families. The Farm to School program significantly increased the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in Oakland schools and allowed 56 schools to add salad bars in their cafeterias. The Oakland Fresh School Produce Markets gave students and their families access to affordable and nutritious food.

Sourced from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Putting Local School Wellness Policies into Action. Atlanta, GA: US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2014. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/NCCDPHP/dph.