Coach For Kids Calls an Audible

For the last 15 years, our Wellness in the Schools programming has transformed the school lunch and recess experience. We have always offered programming that supports our immediate goal to have students receive a healthy lunch followed by an active and positive recess experience so they can return to the classroom focused and ready to learn. Our programming teaches students to adopt these healthy habits to their every day, help them to understand and feel the benefits, and ultimately reach our goal of ending childhood obesity.

As our short term goal of teaching healthy habits to live and learn better and our long term goal of ending childhood obesity has not and will not change, the way in which we have had to stay the course during this pandemic has. 

When schools pivoted to remote, hybrid, in-school, or a sporadic flux of all, we stayed constant in providing them with our support – and pivoted with each play. And what this pandemic highlighted for us is that our programming has never been more needed. For the most part, there was no more lunch in the cafeteria but they were still eating in some way, so our WITS Chefs supported that experience with virtual nutrition education, food access, and cooking classes. However, our schools were not able to provide recess. There was no longer a set time for kids to move, play, socialize, or recharge. There was no longer a place for them to gain physical confidence, work in a team, learn a new movement, perfect a skill, or forge a new friendship. These are the vital components our WITS Coaches teach during WITS Play at recess. Not only was the ability to release pent up energy taken away, but all the social-emotional learning that goes along with it was also missing. Students were now sitting in front of their computer all day, either at a desk in a classroom surrounded by plexiglass or at home far from their peers. 

We quickly pivoted our Coach for Kids curriculum to provide schools with a daily and weekly schedule of movement opportunities. We merged our classroom curriculum of fitness breaks (WITS FIT BITS) with our recess playbook (WITS Play) and created new models that are plugged into school schedules throughout the school day, virtually. We provide a schedule of virtual live classes and/or prerecorded videos that teachers can use when they feel the need. We have also teamed up our WITS Coaches with our WITS Chefs during nutrition and cooking classes so every WITS class includes movement before, during, or after a nutrition or cooking lesson.

It is one thing to be an effective and engaging coach in person but a whole other skill to be able to engage elementary school age and even more challenging, middle school-aged students in physical activity as a class through a screen. The start was definitely a challenge, as we were up against students who were taking our class from their bed and not really in the mood to move, students who didn’t feel comfortable with their camera on, students who were trying to stay quiet so as not to distract adults or siblings trying to work nearby. The challenges were daunting, however, we persevered and found a way to overcome all of it through WITS Play techniques and inclusion. 

We now have concrete schedules with our schools that incorporate movement throughout the day. Our schools have never been more appreciative and our student surveys have proved that this new approach is helping them focus and feel better throughout their school day.

The success that we have found so far in this unprecedented year has given Wellness in the Schools a new digital arm to our programming that we believe will continue even as life gets back to “normal”. Not only does this digital arm help our schools reach their required 60 minutes of physical activity a day, it enables us to reach more students and school communities – it’s especially fun when we see parents join in on the fitness fun.

We will continue to pivot to the needs of our communities. And we will always find a way to continue to Let Kids Play, Feed Kids Real Food, and Get Kids Green.

WITS On the (Virtual) Road

Without leaving our bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms or other makeshift offices, Wellness in the Schools has managed to share our expertise and perspective on wellness issues on a national platform – from Florida to New Jersey to New York, directly from our laptops. In an odd way, the challenges of isolating during the pandemic have opened up opportunities nationwide in this winter season.

First stop, the Global Wellness Summit, in Palm Beach, Florida. Thanks to board member and co-founder of Well+Good, Alexia Brue, we had the great opportunity to introduce our work and our recently launched ScratchWorks at the hybrid event in Florida – where 100 participants gathered in person and over 600 more gathered virtually. The Global Wellness Summit brings together top wellness leaders from around the world to this important conference on the multi trillion dollar wellness industry. This year’s focus was on resetting the world of wellness. Wellness in the Schools was fortunate to be zoomed in for a special “announcement” and introduced by Alexia. See full 6-minute interview here.

Next stop, New York, NY. We joined a local partner, Nazareth Housing as a guest panelist at their Virtual Gala in December. Nazareth Housing is a NYC-based nonprofit that supports the city’s most vulnerable families with housing stability and economic mobility, and we were honored to be called upon as an expert in the food space for their panel.  We shared our thoughts on food insecurity, food access and the value of real, whole food during a pandemic (and always). We were joined by moderator Calvin Sims and fellow panelists Judi Kende from Enterprise Community Partners and Christopher Wimer from The Columbia University Center on Poverty and Social Policy.   Enjoy the full panel here.  

Finally, our last stop on this virtual tour brought us to Princeton, NJ, where we designed a wellness panel for the Campus Life employees’ retreat. The participants – all employees of the university – enjoyed a discussion moderated by WITS’ Executive Director and Co-Founder Nancy Easton, and highlighted by an all-star panel of Maya Feller, Marcus Samulesson and Jenna Wolfe. This team was not only full of excellent advice and wisdom on how to be well during a pandemic, but mostly their collective combination of knowledge, passion and humor was educational, inspiring and entertaining all at once.  Or, as described by Jess Deustch, Associate Director of Princeton Campus Life, “ . . .   through the magic of the essence of Nancy, it all [came] together in the most incredible way – you all [found] a way to reflect all of it – the messy, the painful, the funny, the profound. Just all of it.” Enjoy this panel discussion here.

Our travels in the wellness world continue to solidify our leadership and our partnerships with others doing such important work.  The pandemic has taught us many things, one of which is the reminder that we are all in this together.  Lending our expertise and support to those doing this good work is both a rewarding and important part of driving change.

WITS On the Small Screen

When schools across the country closed their doors in March of last year, we knew that we had to adapt our programming. We quickly went from in-person to virtual. As an article from our last newsletter described it, “Our WITS Chefs and Coaches have suddenly turned into script-writers, directors, camera crew, and video subjects all at once.” The virtual classroom was new territory for both students and educators alike. 

There are many obstacles in virtual learning, but one that became apparent for some of our communities was technological and broadband accessibility. We had trained to teach our classes virtually over conferencing platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, but how could we continue to work with our most vulnerable communities who could not access our content in an online format? 

The answer to that question actually takes us back to 2015. WITS Chef Ricardo Diaz had just started at Wellness in the Schools and was teaching WITS Bits and WITS Labs at PS 55X, The Benjamin Franklin School in the Bronx. As Ricardo continued to work in the school over the years, his talents caught the attention of Principal Luis Torres. 

In April of last year, Principal Torres shared with Ricardo that many students in the Bronx were unable to participate in virtual learning fully due to lack of technology and limited broadband. Data collected from the City of New York corroborates Principal Torres’ claim; nearly one third of New York City households lack a home broadband subscription. Furthermore, approximately 12% of New York City households do not have home access to a computing device of any kind. These percentages are even higher in many of the communities we work in, such as Claremont Village in The Bronx where PS 55X is located.

Principal Torres connected Ricardo with the staff at BronxNet, a public, educational, and government access cable TV network in The Bronx. The network was putting together a string of programming to air throughout the school day called Edulution, which airs educational content created by New York City teachers to help bring virtual education into homes where device or internet access was limited. BronxNet was looking for health and wellness content on Edulution, so we were invited to submit a pilot episode. 

Not long after submitting a 15 minute pilot episode, a WITS BronxNet show was born! We were immediately featured bi-monthly for 30-minutes during prime time. The show has proven to be so popular that we were recently upgraded to a weekly 30 minute episode. 

Starring WITS Chef and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Ricardo Diaz, often accompanied by his sous Chef (and nephew) Sebastian, A Bite of Wellness puts some of our regular WITS programming on display, while also modifying the content to make sure it is relevant for the audience at this moment. WITS National Program Director Marion Williams, who produces the show, said that, “before developing an episode idea we always ask ourselves ‘What do the people need right now?’” This aspect of the show comes through clearly. The food that is cooked in episodes of A Bite of Wellness is always in season, featuring Green Market tours and local produce. Currently, during the cold winter months, we have featured a series on immunity, and ways you can incorporate immunity boosting ingredients into your diet. It’s not just a cooking show.

To Ricardo and Marion, A Bite of Wellness is all about accessibility. They know that in order to make cooking accessible, they need to show how to access the ingredients. There are multiple episodes of A Bite of Wellness that start in farmers markets. Marion and Ricardo have been to so many farmers markets in their WITS regalia that they are now recognized by market patrons! Farmers market episodes explain how one can use EBT and Pandemic EBT to pay for fresh produce at GrowNYC markets, and how to ask questions about the produce. By demystifying the farmers market and showing alternative ways to pay, Ricardo and Marion have made it easier for Bronx residents to access healthy ingredients and cook delicious meals.

This isn’t only empowering to viewers, but to Marion and Ricardo as well. Marion said that, “What A Bite of Wellness allowed us to do was to engage our communities and to see families in the Bronx at farmers markets to let them know that we are still here. Even though we have not been going into their schools in person, we’re still here…we’re still doing this work.”

To see the work for yourself, tune into BronxNet’s BX Inform channel (channel 70 on Optimum, 36 on Fios, or the live stream link here) on Monday at 6:30 PM ET. If you want to view clips or full episodes that have already aired then check out the A Bite of Wellness Youtube channel.

Well Earned Wellness Workshops

When school buildings closed nearly one year ago, many people feared the impact it would have on food accessibility – millions of students depend on school meals for at least one of their meals a day. Although school buildings remained closed for learning for the rest of the 2019-20 academic year, many of them opened their doors to act as feeding centers. School food managers, cooks, and staff from the Office of Food & Nutrition Services (OFNS) in NYC became frontline heroes, putting their own health at risk to keep New York City’s children and community fed.

Wellness in the Schools created Wellness Camp: Taking Care of You, in partnership with OFNS to support school managers and cooks as they continued to work daily to feed children in NYC, whether in school or not. The Wellness Camp – which was co-designed by NYC school cooks themselves – teaches tips for mindfulness and personal health, to help school cooks take care of themselves so that they can better take care of others. The classes introduce simple at-home recipes,fitness activities and breathing techniques.

Wellness Camp is a six workshop series, 100% virtual. Each workshop is driven by the five senses, where we teach mindfulness techniques and holistic health strategies that can be used to mitigate the stress that comes with working on the frontlines of this pandemic.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the first workshop in October, which focused on the sense of sight. WITS Chefs Rebecca Johnson and Victoria Baluk led the class by discussing the importance of sight in the scope of wellness. “Before we eat what’s on our plate, we see it. One of the best things we can do for our health is eat a variety of fruits and vegetables that come in many different colors,” Rebecca instructed. 

Next, Rebecca demonstrated how to make overnight oats and all of the ways that we can customize it to make it to suit our tastes, while also being a healthy and filling breakfast that you can take on the go. 

Chef Victoria then led everyone through a stretching routine that was devised specifically for school cooks. Hours of leaning over counters and looking down at cutting boards when preparing food can create a good deal of muscular tension and soreness. We therefore began with simple wrist stretches. Cooks also spend much of their day standing, which takes a toll on the body. Taking small stretch breaks throughout the day mitigates the soreness cooks often experience, and also allows them to set aside time for their own wellness. Chef Victoria reminded attendees that, “it’s important to breathe mindfully as you stretch, it makes the stretching easier but it also makes the stretching become a form of moving meditation.”

At the end of the session, Chef Rebecca reminded everyone that, “how we see things is often determined by our mindset,” bringing back the connection between sight and our overall well being. The school food chefs in attendance left rejuvenated. One cook stated, “I am constantly thinking about the job. I have dreams about it, but this training helps me turn off my brain.” Another attendee said, “I feel that these workshops show that people outside the kitchen really care about us.” Stephen O’Brien, the Director of Strategic Partnerships for OFNS said, “Our kitchen staff have done an exceptional job under exceptional circumstances and deserve our support. This training is one way that we can do that.”

What does Wellness in the Schools see for the future of Wellness Camps? We will grow the Camps and expand them to other districts, as well as outside of the cook space. On the coach side, Wellness in the Schools will host Wellness Bootcamps; sessions similar to Wellness Camp that are designed for those providing physical activity in schools (or virtually). We have also received requests from principals to host wellness sessions with their teachers. In short, we see ourselves spreading wellness wherever needed.

As for what Wellness Camp means to us, Rebecca put it best, “Wellness Camps are a phenomenal opportunity to provide some of NYC’s most essential workers with tools to keep themselves well at the most critical time of our generation, during a pandemic. We all remember the tremendous impact of Cook Camps, so to be invited back into OFNS kitchens virtually in support of frontline worker’s wellness goals is nothing short of magical. It’s humbling after all these years, to still be together with school food service managers and cooks cooking, moving, breathing and laughing. I see it as a wellness community that even these socially distanced times could not separate.”

Sakara Life’s Superfood Cookie Dough Bites

Sakara Life, one of our Chef Partners, has graciously included a delicious and easy recipe for ‘Superfood Cookie Dough Bites.’ Sakara Life specializes in delicious, organic meals delivered to your home or office. They are also some of our biggest cheerleaders, and we are so grateful for their partnership. They will be donating a percentage of their proceeds to Wellness in the Schools on Giving Tuesday, so please keep an eye out! 

Superfood Cookie Dough Bites

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 3 tablespoons flaxseed meal
  • 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan salt
  • 1/4 cup cacao nibs
  • 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, stir together the almond butter, maple syrup, and vanilla until creamy. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, flaxseed meal, and salt.
  2. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well to combine. Use the back of your spoon to work in the cacao nibs. Use your hands to roll the dough into 1-inch (2.5 cm) balls.
  3. In a small bowl or on a plate, mix together the hemp seeds and shredded coconut. Roll each ball in mixture until fully coated. Refrigerate the bites for at least 30 minutes before serving. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Alexia Brue, WITS Board Member and Well+Good Co-Founder

Alexia Brue is the co-founder of Well+Good, a lifestyle media company devoted to health and wellness that reaches over 15 million people a month across its website, email newsletters, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and various other channels. 

She officially joined the Wellness in the Schools Board of Directors in early 2020, after years of supporting our organization. Her extensive experience in content creation, marketing, communications, and partnerships makes her such a valuable member of our team. The following is a lightly edited interview.  

WITS: Please share with us why you entered the wellness space.

AB:  We started Well+Good in 2009 as a media company focused on the wellness lifestyle that was emerging around that time. Before the wellness movement really picked up steam, healthy eating was thought of as punitive, not as delicious; working out was to get a flat belly instead of working out to make yourself feel great, and for your mental health. So, we were a part of that paradigm shift of wellness being seen as a fun, social, joyful, and accessible lifestyle. 

We know that food is a huge part of feeling energetic and focused. Nutrition is the bedrock and foundation of a healthy lifestyle. You can be exercising, sleeping well, meditating, doing all these different beneficial practices, but if your nutrition isn’t serving you well, you don’t get the full benefits. With my own children, I really see first-hand how from a young age there are so many cultural and societal forces at work making it hard for children to eat nutritiously. We’ve seen how making the healthier choice has become more convenient and more affordable, but we still have a long way to go. 

WITS: Did you have this intuitive sense that ‘wellness’ would become the booming industry that it is today?

AB: My cofounder and I had been covering wellness–all facets of the lifestyle, from fitness and food to financial and mental wellness—and the experts in this space for so long, so it didn’t seem as niche to us as it seemed to other people. I still think the wellness industry is in its very early early days and ultimately it’ll just be synonymous with life. Nancy [Easton] talks about how at some happy juncture in the future WITS will be obsolete because everything WITS teaches will be part of the system. We feel the same way about Well+Good. 

 WITS: The “business of wellness” has been criticized in the past for seeming like it’s catering to a certain demographic. We’d be curious to know – what does wellness mean to you? 

AB: Like you are saying, wellness is a $4.5 trillion dollar industry. It has been commodified in a lot of ways. But for us, from the beginning at W+G, wellness was always about practices, not products. Practices such as walking, yoga, running, all types of exercise, meditation, sleeping well, cooking. These are all accessible practices that create a wellness lifestyle and are financially accessible. It’s as simple as having a pair of running shoes and a yoga mat. Wellbeing is someone’s birthright, and wellness is how we get there. The other stuff is window dressing, you know? No-one needs to go to SoulCycle. No-one needs a $12 green juice. 

WITS: How did you get involved with WITS? 

AB: Nancy and I have friends in common, and we met four or so years ago and I immediately fell in love with her and wanted to help the organization however I could. I was really familiar with Wellness in the Schools already; there was a lot of overlap in terms of core values between W+G and WITS.  

Also, children’s nutrition is an area that I feel increasingly passionate about. And as my kids have gotten older, I’ve gotten more interested in how food is at the center of what it means to be healthy. I love what Wellness in the Schools is doing, and seeing how the WITS Programming intersects with Scratchworks. And I love the holistic vision of nutrition and fitness together.  

WITS: You recently got to see our video work in-person at the Met, right? 

AB: Yes, it was really awesome and inspiring to see the team at work! COVID-19 hit right when I was about to go to the schools to see a Lab, so, it was great to get to go to the Met and finally meet Marion and see the content being created. Chef Ricardo was making a cauliflower soup that looked amazing, and I can’t wait to try the recipe. 

WITS: What is one thing that excites you about our work?

AB: I love how WITS celebrates school chefs, and gives them the support and recognition they need and deserve to do their jobs well. And, of course, the WITS Labs. I love how the Labs take wholesome ingredients and unpack them nutritionally, and then include hands-on education of how to cook and create something delicious with them. It’s education that doesn’t come up in the regular curriculum.  In my opinion, we should be teaching kids nutrition the same way we’re teaching history. 

 WITS: What are your favorite ways to stay active?

AB: I enjoy hiking, running, paddleboarding and weightlifting.  

WITS: Favorite healthy snack? 

AB: Air-popped popcorn with nutritional yeast! 

 

Note from our National Program Directors

If we had to come up with one quote that would encapsulate our perspective of this unprecedented year of 2020, it would be, “Out of crisis comes opportunity.”

Aside from the fact that this unprecedented pandemic has wreaked havoc on families, businesses, and the overall health of this nation, this pandemic has highlighted all too clearly the price of poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyles, and obesity-related disease. As the world around us pivoted to keep their businesses afloat, we focused on pivoting to help the communities we serve. Our goal at Wellness in the Schools remains the same: we support our school communities, regardless of whatever roadblocks are put in our way. To meet our goal during this strange year, we have pivoted how we teach our programs, as it is NOW that schools are in even more need of our wellness support, connection, content, and optimism.

Our pivoting not only led to us reprogramming the way we teach our students and school communities, but also made way for new emergency feeding programs with our community partners, in order to help communities hit the hardest due to school closings. 

Since March and through the summer, we spent countless hours developing our new approach. We spent our time speaking with schools – listening, supporting, and taking everything we do best and reformatting it to meet their needs. This year, we have transferred all of our Cook for Kids, Coach for Kids, and Green for Kids programming to virtual platforms. Our team of WITS Chefs and Coaches are prepared and eager to deliver the customized approaches that each school selected as working best for them. We are offering a wide range of possibilities for students, teachers, and/or parents such as:

  • WITS Virtual Live Lessons – streaming into classrooms or living rooms.
  • WITS Pre-Recorded Lessons – allowing teachers a chance to use WITS programs in their curriculum schedule.
  • WITS Blended Lessons – allowing a mix of both Virtual and Pre-Recorded. 
  • WITS on Local Cable TV – WITS Pre-Recorded content for families to use as family entertainment.
  • And where possible, in-person WITS Programming in the schools where we can conduct programming in larger areas of the school, such as schoolyards, cafeterias, gardens, and auditoriums where everyone has enough space to social distance.

As we push through this 2020-21 school year amidst all the uncertainties, one thing is clear. Our team at Wellness in the Schools has only strengthened, and we remain steady towards our mission. Our team is a team full of WITS Veterans bringing years of experience. And the new challenge presented to us has given us the space to fine-tune our teamwork, lead with trust, and continue to be a reliable resource for our communities to count on when needed the most.

With gratitude, 

Wendy & Marion

Lights, Camera, Action!

“I like a difference in texture in my applesauce,” says WITS Chef Kisha. “I’m going to now give it a quick taste, and make sure that I keep stirring to keep it from burning.” Chef Cameo’s Zoom video suddenly pops up on the screen. “Chef Kisha, someone in the class had a question — why would the applesauce burn?” “Anything that is exposed to heat can burn,” replies Chef Kisha, “Apples have a lot of sugar in them, and sugar also tends to burn quite a bit, especially if it’s in contact with the bottom of a pot. So you just have to be mindful of that.” She brings up a spoonful to the screen, so that everyone can see the texture of the applesauce. 

Getting the WITS “film studio” set up

Chef Kisha and Chef Cameo are in the middle of a live, virtual WITS Applesauce Lab with 30 students of West Prep Academy. Chef Kisha is busy stirring a steaming pot, with two cameras set up — one in front of her, and one suspended over the pot. Chef Cameo, in the meantime, moderates the Zoom chat room to relay the students’ questions as they come in: How can we make it less chunky? Is it supposed to be liquidy? Do we add water if we want it to be liquidy? There’s really no sugar added in it? Can we put it in a blender? It doesn’t look like ‘normal’ applesauce…it tastes good though, right? One student doesn’t have a question, but types in the chat, “This is fun!” 

Our WITS Chefs and Coaches have suddenly turned into script-writers, directors, camera crew, and video subjects all at once. It goes without saying that Wellness in the Schools Programming this school year looks very, very different. We are used to emulsifying salad dressings side-by-side with our students, and high-fiving each other on the recess yard (can you even imagine?! High fives!). This year, our students can find our WITS Chefs and Coaches on their desktop screens and phones, bringing the same level of encouragement and guidance and (virtual) high fives through our virtual WITS Programming. 

Of course, the work set-up has been quite a big difference from being in schools. “I look for a ‘golden hour’ when family, pets, neighbors, and construction will not be too loud. I turn off fans and the A/C unit, turn on extra lights, and then it’s go time,” says WITS Chef Kent. Chef Kisha speaks about her makeshift filming station, “Negotiating space has been a bit of a challenge since I don’t live alone. Most days, my workspace has been the bedroom. It is one of the few places that I can shut out the rest of the world. With a box full of chefware sent from the office, I can turn any area into a kitchen!” Says WITS Chef Victoria, “I like to review my script and consider where I can have some fun, and highlight it on the actual script as a reminder. You spend a lot of time in your head to “get it right,” but the downside is that you tend to forget to have some fun. Just as in the classroom, our virtual audience is kids. They expect, and deserve, some fun!” 

Lights, camera, and…!

One of our keys to success has been having a moderator separate from the WITS Chef demoing the recipe or WITS Coach leading the children through an exercise. “Keeping the students engaged with questions in the chat and through video would be incredibly difficult to do while teaching,” says Chef Cameo. Chef Kisha agrees, “The moderator is instrumental in helping the class flow, and reminding the chef or coach if they accidentally miss a key point. The moderator can also work out the lighting and camera angles with you through video.” 

Says Program Manager Errol, “The biggest success has been seeing the students’ faces on the screen in real-time; this was equivalent to interacting with students in the recess yard. This adds a new level of excitement for the WITS Coaches, who have waited for student engagement these past few months and are used to seeing happiness in a kid’s face every day. The Coaches found themselves recreating the feeling you get in the recess yard and hoping they’re having fun.” Says Chef Jenee, “As I’ve started this new, unprecedented way of teaching WITS content, one surprising thing that I’ve experienced has been the unbroken connection with students over the shared experience of joy and excitement around delicious and healthy food. It was great to see students’ faces light up when tasting a kale smoothie that they prepared during a virtual WITS Lab.” 

Of course, nothing replaces being in schools. Our WITS Chefs and Coaches miss their students terribly. “I hate not being there,” says Chef Anwar, “Nothing beats being there.” However, our ultimate goal is to continue carrying out our mission: teaching kids healthy habits to learn and live better. “We continue to be a part of the communities that we have worked so hard for over the years, especially during a time when familiar relationships are crucial. Our students know that we are truly going through this with them, and that we care about how they are,” says Chef Kisha. While it’s difficult to not be in schools, and virtual teaching (especially live) can feel like a whole new territory, we know that now more than ever, we need to emphasize the importance of health, nutrition, and exercise within our communities. Chef Victoria said it best: “The community, the world, needs to build their immune system now, more than ever. We talk about masks and hand washing, but we’re not talking about our everyday health and what we can do to keep ourselves strong. It’s like two legs of a three legged stool. We have an opportunity here and organizations like ours have the tools and the people to make change. Health needs to be made a priority across the board, beginning with ourselves.”

What Fall Looks Like

Our Wellness work comes alive inside school buildings and communities. We make tahini dressing with students in classrooms, we high-five one another on the recess yard, and we work side by side with school food staff in the cafeteria kitchen. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that our programming will look different for the 2020-2021 school year. However, our mission has not changed: we will continue teaching kids healthy habits to learn and live better.

We know that COVID-19 has impacted our most vulnerable communities. We also know that there is overwhelming data on how this pandemic disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities, who experience a higher percentage of diet-related disease. We are thus prioritizing by strengthening and reinforcing the relationships we have made with students, guardians, teachers, and school staff over the years. We are listening more intentionally and actively, and customizing our wellness work based on what schools most want and need. In that spirit, we will continue to do the following:

  1. Work closely with our schools through our remote online learning platform, featuring pre-recorded, live and blended fitness and nutrition content. 
  2. Adapt our fitness program in compliance with COVID-19 restrictions. 
  3. Highlight our WITS Fitness Partners who are providing content free of charge.
  4. Produce “A Bite of Wellness” with BronxNet TV, where viewers can watch our WITS Chefs give a cooking demonstration even without WiFi or computer access. This can be viewed biweekly on Tuesday nights at 8PM EST, on Channel 70 on Optimum, 36 on FiOs, and also here
  5. Support school districts by providing Wellness trainings, focusing not only on nutrition and culinary education, but also overall well-being.
  6. Support emergency feeding efforts.
  7. Work with our parent and guardian community, ensuring that they have the most up-to-date resources available for navigating the pandemic and other related challenges. 
  8. Pursue change on a systematic level by advocating for freshly prepared meals nationwide, specifically through our ScratchWorks initiative.  

We remain immensely grateful towards our School Food Heroes for continuing to show up for our students, day after day, and we are honored to be serving our communities during this time. Thank you to our community for standing beside us during this truly unprecedented school year.