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. 

Thank You Teachers

Two weeks ago we celebrated National Teacher Appreciation Week with an Instagram post expressing our gratitude to all teachers, but we feel the need to take our gratitude above and beyond the restraints of the Instagram caption limit and provide a bit more flavor. Because educators deserve that we go above and beyond for them. 

We can all look back and remember a teacher who left a lasting impression on us. If not a teacher from school, then a teacher from another walk of life, such as a mentor or coach. Your ability to read this blog post is a direct result of someone who taught you how to read. In fact, almost everything that you know was taught to you by someone else. This makes us realize that even when we aren’t in the midst of a pandemic, we owe teachers more than we can ever repay them. 

But we are in the middle of a pandemic, and teaching has only gotten more difficult. With a digital divide, the challenges of impacting children and effecting change are doubled. As Priya Parker of the New York Times put it in her recent podcast on How Teachers Are Fighting to Make Meaningful Connections With Students, “Teachers are in the transformation business. At the end of every school year, young people are supposed to leave changed. That’s a tall order — particularly now, when we’re forced to limit what we can do together and we’re teaching on Zoom.” This order is made even taller due to students feeling scared and restless, or at the very least confused about what is going on right now. 

In spite of these challenges, Wellness in the Schools has seen many instances of educators going above and beyond; helping to put their students more at ease. Here are just a few examples that we would like to share…

  • Ms. Costa of West Prep Academy has invited WITS Coach Errol to help bring fitness into the homes of students via Instagram Live.  Every Friday at 1:30 pm, Coach Errol has led exercises with the students who tune in, and Ms. Costa, Magnet School Specialist of West Prep, welcomes her students with  a big “hi” and offers them the chance to request the workout songs. See a snippet of this here. Ms. Costa has also identified families in need, for whom we are providing meals. 
  • Principal Grande of PS 56 has been using his guitar skills to connect with his students. Here is a video of him singing “Wonderwall” by Oasis for his students. And another video of Principal Grande performing “My Hero” by Foo Fighters.
  • Teachers at KIPP schools in Camden, NJ volunteer to deliver meals to the families of students who could not pick them up on their own.

Wellness in the Schools educators – WITS Chefs and Coaches – fall right into the category of above and beyond.  They face the same challenges and they miss the daily engaging and powerful interactions with their students. But they too are overcoming obstacles or helping others by

  • Offering volunteer translation services for Spanish speaking New Yorkers
  • Participating in volunteer feeding efforts in NY, NJ, FL, DC, and CA.
  • Continuing to create video content and even holding live virtual  classes for both children and families.

Thank you to all of the teachers going above and beyond. We cannot wait to thank you in person!

Thank You Fitness Partners

We have modeled for years that healthy eating and active play are synergistic, each reinforcing the other to paint a more complete picture of wellness. This week, we would like to finish painting our picture. Last week we featured the work of our Chef Partners during COVID-19. Now we would like to shed light on the great work of our Fitness Partners, who have been keeping us moving, stretching, and dancing. A good deal of attention has been directed at those partaking in emergency feeding and donating meals for healthcare providers (and rightly so!), but we also wanted to take this space to recognize and applaud the individuals who encourage us to touch our toes and compete in a triathlon in our living room. In a time when many of us are more sedentary than usual, we are realizing that movement is more important than ever for our emotional, mental, and physical health. 

First, we are grateful to the sports coaching and mentorship platform Famer for donating their time, resources, and knowledge so that we can share our virtual fitness and food programming through their software app. We developed WITS-specific activities, filmed at home by our WITS Chefs and Coaches, and Famer polished the videos for its platform to be shared with our school network. While our team is not able to be in schools, Famer has made it possible for us to continue teaching children healthy habits while at home. 

And of course, we are thankful to our Fitness Partners. So many of them have created innovative ways to keep us active during this pandemic, despite the obvious restrictions (we can’t freely go outside, we have limited equipment, and some of us are in tiny NYC apartments, to name a few). Here’s what some of our Partners have been doing:

We know that creating this kind of remote content can be challenging, especially when ‘fitness classes’ traditionally rely on collaborative in-person energy, yet our Fitness Partners are determinedly pushing forward (and pushing us forward, as well). Active play has always been a key pillar of our work, and the pandemic has drawn public attention to the importance of good health, with fitness being one side of the good health coin. Whether today in our bedrooms and living rooms, or tomorrow in your studios, fields and courts, we send a collective THANK YOU to our Fitness Partners for keeping us moving and keeping us healthy and strong, both mentally and physically.

Thank You Chef Partners

In last week’s entry on Healthcare Heroes, we featured one of our long term Chef Partners, Chopt Creative Salad. We wanted to build on that this week to celebrate the many Chef Partners who have donated their time, their resources and their talent to countless Wellness in the Schools events over the years – from our annual Benefit on the rooftops of Manhattan’s finest buildings, to school kitchens and classrooms where their 10-year old audience is equally awed.

Our approach to COVID-19 has not wavered since the day public schools closed. We are helping to fill in the gaps with real food, by once again tapping into the resources of our Chef Partners. Our Chef Partners, most of whom serve local communities, are the heart and soul of local economies, from NYC to Miami. They make up the economic ecosystem that we support today so that tomorrow we are one step closer to a stronger food system — one that purchases from local farms, values scratch cooked over processed food, and fuels a preventative approach to good health.

Today, we thank the very same Chef Partners who have redefined the word ‘hospitality.’ Many have turned their commissaries and kitchens into emergency feeding operations, have pivoted their business models to address the needs of healthcare staff, and have continued to seek ways to do what they do best — feeding their communities, and keeping people nourished. 

Green Top Farms is one such example. Green Top Farms, a catering company that has donated produce to our Fall Harvest Dinner and has adopted a school in Harlem, shifted their business model to address the pandemic by turning their NYC commissary into an emergency feeding operation. They have been preparing and delivering 1000+ meals to the people on the front lines and to families in need, including those in our programs. Two Wellness in the Schools Chefs even joined the “staff” at Green Top Farms, since their work in school kitchens is not viable during this time. While WITS Chefs Laurielle and Kent are no longer able to feed children in NYC public schools, they are using their time and skills as chefs to volunteer at Green Top Farms, preparing nourishing meals for the most vulnerable of our NYC families. The lead chef at Green Top Farms, Anup Joshi, was actually one of our very first Chef Partners 15 years ago when he was a line cook at Tertulia. It’s been remarkable seeing how our partnerships continue to grow and evolve, in a way that none of us could have ever imagined. 

In addition to Green Top Farms and Chopt, here are some ways other rockstar Chef Partners have been addressing COVID-19: 

  • Between the Bread donated meal packs to school food staff and their families in Camden. Six schools received bags of food containing whole wheat fresh bread, potatoes, onion, citrus, granola bars, and assorted cheeses. Please see below for a message from Between the Bread’s Jon Eisen and Camden City School District’s Manager of School Nutrition Arlethia Brown.
  • Chef JJ and the FIELDTRIP team have fed more than 800 healthcare workers in hospitals throughout the community. They have also partnered with Harlem Grown to support youth and families in shelters throughout Harlem during this time. 
  • Chef Michael Schwartz of Michael’s Genuine Restaurant Group is feeding 150 families in Liberty City, Miami. We are grateful to our long-term partners, the Key Biscayne Community Foundation and José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, for providing funding for this project. The effort is featured here.
  • Chef Clark Bowen of Fooq’s Miami is donating meals to feed families in Liberty City.
  • SOUND Tea is delivering their sparkling beverages to hospitals.
  • The Little Beet’s #InMyScrubs initiative is keeping hospital workers well-fed.  
  • Gotham Greens is donating fresh produce to food banks and community partners.
  • Soom Foods has donated their tahini to our restaurant partners and schools.
  • Misfits Market is donating fruit and vegetables to families in our partner school in Camden, NJ.
  • Red Rabbit is preparing meals for senior citizens in NYCHA Housing, Settlement Houses, etc.

The list above just barely skims the surface, and there are many others who have gone unmentioned. We know that so many chefs and restaurants, whether they are a part of the WITS family or not, are doing what they can to take care of their staff, their patrons, and also those closely affected by the pandemic. We encourage our readers to show restaurants support during this time by ordering gift cards, purchasing meals to go towards healthcare providers, or donating towards funds such as the one set up by the James Beard Foundation. Check to see if your favorite local restaurant has set up a GoFundMe page to support their furloughed staff. While we eagerly await the day that we can gather and share a meal inside the restaurants themselves, we will do what we can to support them from six feet (and more) apart. 

Thank You Healthcare Heroes

Last month we expressed our immense gratitude for the school food heroes of our country — some of whom appeared on the cover of Time this week. One school food worker from the Dallas Independent School District featured in the cover story had a touching remark: “Most people look at us as a cafeteria lady, I look at it as a service. If there wasn’t an epidemic we would be still serving kids who probably would not get another meal until the next day. It’s an honor for us to serve those kids.” This quote eloquently captures the importance of service in a time of crisis – something healthcare workers know all too well. 

Even on the most typical of days, healthcare professionals put their own health at risk to help others. And now they are caring for more people than they have ever had to, and doing an exceptional job. They are heroes, but they are still human. Even our heroes need some help from time to time; they need to know that somebody is also there for them. Dr. Chen Fu, from NYU Langone Medical Center told a Time reporter, “The only thing that really keeps me going is the kindness that everybody’s been showing me and everybody in the healthcare profession at this time. People who reach out, who buy me a meal, the people who let me know that they’re there for me across the digital line.”

That’s where our long-term partners at Chopt come in. Chopt Creative Salad Co. and Dos Toros have raised over $250,000 to launch and support their “Feed the Frontline” initiative — a program created to provide medical professionals with healthy meals everyday while they’re at work. They are donating over 1,000 meals a day to sustain the people who are sustaining us. 

A crisis is not the time to stop eating healthy. Hospital workers spend most of the day on their feet so they need a nutritious option like a salad to get them through the day. Chopt has always known the importance of a healthy and balanced meal, having supported our mission to feed kids real food for over 10 years. Now, they are going to great lengths to feed our healthcare workers real food.

To both our healthcare heroes and our Chopt heroes: Thank you. We are grateful for your sacrifices and hard work to support people in their time of need. As our NYC Mayor said earlier this morning, “I can’t tell you when we’ll be able to host cultural events and parades again. But I can tell you who our first parade will be for: When the time is right, New York City will honor our health care workers and first responders.” We can’t wait to see you there.

Thank You School Lunch Heroes

As we navigate these uncertain times, the team at Wellness in the Schools sends immense gratitude. Gratitude to the unsung heroes in school kitchens around the country who are taking real risks to make sure their “babies” are fed. 31 million children rely on school meals in the most normal of times. And, now, in such uncertainty, there is one thing that is certain – our food service professionals around the country will provide meals for school children as first responders in an unparalleled crisis. 

We have witnessed our partners around the country — from California; to Trenton and Camden, NJ; to South Florida, Washington, DC, and finally, to our partners in NYC — rallying their teams to ensure that each child has not just one meal, but often two and three meals each school day, and packages for weekends too. They have not missed a day of feeding, even as the rest of us face empty grocery shelves and crowded grocery lines.

In NYC alone, these women and men are feeding over 100 at-risk children who require pureed foods, or other types of adaptations; they are delivering to homeless shelters; this week they are providing meals in every single NYC school building – all 1700 of them. Participation has increased tenfold since Monday as we all help to get the word out that 1M NYC school children are being taken care of by the women and men who have been following strict food safety protocols not just today, but for years. Next week, NYC will move to a summer feeding model, with over 400 buildings ready to nourish our most vulnerable populations. Find out where here.

To most of us, food is nourishment, food is love. Preparing a meal for someone is an act of kindness and a gesture of care. Our partners are offering this kindness and care to millions of children daily. To the lunch ladies (and men) around the country, to your leadership and operation teams, to your families who watch as you leave your homes before the sun rises, we THANK YOU. We thank you for your sacrifices to feed kids healthy food every day and now, for putting your lives at risk to do so. We feel incredibly proud to know so many of you through our work together. We have stood by you in the best of times. And, now, we stand beside you in these most extraordinary of times as you chop, dice and serve alone. You are our heroes. 

To our community, reach out to your local district and say thank you. Ask how you can help. Chances are your thank you will be all they need, as they are running smooth operations and have this under control, as always.
To our community, link here to learn how Wellness in the Schools is responding during this time and to find resources for both those in need and those who can help. We are in this together.

WITS worked collectively with Chef Ann Foundation, Life Time Foundation, TIPS for School Meals That Rock and Whole Kids Foundation to produce a thank you video for school food heroes, in honor of School Food Heroes Day on 5/1/2020.

Our Response to COVID-19

Taking care of our team.

This is paramount. We are sharing resources for both emotional and physical well being, and we are doing our best to provide support to team members near and far.  We have already gathered together over Zoom for a virtual yoga class provided by our partner Pam Reece – giving us all a chance to stop, and breathe together.

We are monitoring CDC guidelines, and following the leads of our districts to determine how and when our teams can support our communities by bringing trained staff members to support school sites. 

Bridging connections for our partners (chefs, fitness partners, food vendors) to help support our families.

After 15 years on the ground we have made strong connections with local partners, primarily in NYC. We are fielding calls from partners with offers to help and with expressions of need. We are finding that we can play a critical role in forging these connections to help families. See resources below.

One small example of this “networking” is working with Red Rabbit to help get their meals to over 1,000 Chop’t Salad employees’ families who have been furloughed due to restaurants closing.

Providing online resources for interested schools.

We are working with the online sports app Famer. They are providing us with a series of fitness drills for our school communities for the next two weeks. During these two weeks, we will film videos with our team to roll out more content for kids to do at home.

Continuing to develop ScratchWorks

We will continue to develop ScratchWorks to help support school districts to provide freshly prepared meals to their communities. This cooperative effort with foundation partners, namely Chef Ann Foundation, Life Time Foundation, and Whole Kids Foundation, and under the leadership of our district partners: Boulder, CO / Arlington, VA / Austin, TX / Minneapolis, MN / NYC, NY / Washington, DC is all the more important today. In these uncertain times, we have to move in the moment with short-term activations, while also staying focused on our long-term goal to provide healthy school environments for vulnerable children across this country. The word healthy certainly takes on more meaning today, and health and wellness have become ever more important. Our country is at an even greater risk than others during this pandemic due to our high rates of obesity and diabetes. Essentially, we are facing a pandemic at a time when we are already sick. COVID-19 has brought many things to light, among them, that we need to double down on the extraordinary collective work of school districts around the country.


COVID-19 Food Hub NYC, created by Food Education Fund

Information on SNAP and Emergency Food Assistance, by NYC HRA

Information on Emergency Grab and Go Meals, by Red Rabbit

Food Bank for NYC

Resources if you may be unemployed due to COVID-19

Tips on keeping you and your kids stress-free and calm, by The Child Mind Institute

Updates on NYC school meals

Guidance for schools and childcare programs

Emergency grab & go meals 

The Joyful 12! Seasonal Cookbook by Chef Hollie Greene Rottman, Founder of JoyFoodly and WITS National Program Director

Common Threads Coronavirus Resources

Baldor Specialty Foods Home Delivery

Alliance For A Healthier Generation COVID-19 Resources

Novato, California Unified School District Free Meal Pick-Up

San Rafael, California City Schools Meal Service

Marin, California Food Bank

San Francisco Unified School District Free Meals Map

EatFresh: Quick & Healthy Recipes

Wicked Healthy Family Cooking Workshop Video Series (Coupon Code: TOTALLYFREEKIDS)

FoodHub NYC Restaurant Donation Map

Camden, NJ Meal Map

Trenton, NJ Grab & Go Meal Access

Ready, Set, Healthy Trenton, NJ

Active Plus Physical Education & Cooking Classes

Stay Home Take Care: A Social Distancing Care Package From Girl’s Night In

How You Can Support NYC’s Food System During COVID-19

NYC Well: Helping New Yorkers in Crisis

Coronavirus NYC Neighborhood Food Resource Guides

NYC Food Delivery Assistance

NYC Food Assistance Sites

NYC DOE Free Meals

Coronavirus and Substance Use

How to Find a State-Funded Rehab Center

Sleep During a Crisis

Wellness in the Home

To our friends, supporters, students, and school communities: Now more than ever, there is a great need for community. While this may feel like a small effort, we at Wellness in the Schools wanted to circulate resources and tips for you to follow during this unprecedented time. You’ll find information on cooking tips, fitness tips, and general resources on how to stay mentally and emotionally healthy, from our partners, friends, and members of the WITS community. We’ll be adding to this as the days go on.

What are you doing to take care of yourself, and your loved ones? We’d love to hear from you. Please send an email to joan@wellnessintheschools.org, if you’d like to share. Take care, everyone.

Here is a collection of recipes to help alleviate stress.”
Brooke, WITS Chef 

“Scale up the recipes you are making to put in the freezer, just in case we need to completely stay indoors. My mom is famous in our neighborhood for her chocolate chip cookies. I went over to her house and made them with her, using her “measuring” vessels, and recorded actual accurate measurements. If you follow the instructions, they should turn out as famous as hers.

I also included the tomato soup recipe I just launched at the Met. Great with grilled cheese!” 
Bill, WITS Executive Chef

“Keep your immune system as healthy as possible. Here’s a recipe I developed!” 
-Rebecca, WITS Program Manager 

“Sprouting at home can be a super inexpensive way to add nutritious greens to meals, and it can also be a fun activity for parents and students. Here is a video that shows how to sprout with lentils.”
Jenee, WITS Chef

“Here’s some tips on how to stock a healthy pantry.”
Ricardo, WITS Chef and RDN

“As we try to stock our homes with supplies, keep in mind your storage availability.  Keep the air flowing, and don’t pack foods in the refrigerator. Overstocking can stress the unit, so be careful in storing. Rotate your items. Use your oldest items first. When you buy new items put them in the back row or at the bottom of the stack. (*Except when making purchases of foods that are on discount and must be eaten quickly). Be aware of expiration dates. If items are going to expire soon, eat them and be sure to purchase replacements so that you always have some in storage.”
Marion, WITS Program Director 

“Thinking back to my freelance days working from home, what most comes to mind is that you always have to keep following a schedule and structure your days. Wake up at the same time, get dressed (no day-long jammies, however tempting). Make a point of getting up from your workspace, stretching, taking the pups out. It’s always important to do it but now more than ever. Activity in the schools is non-stop, so you want to make sure you’re moving.” 
-Ana, WITS Program Manager 

“To account for the shortage of hand sanitizer, I made my own. See below for the ‘recipe’: 

The formula is 60% alcohol to 40% gel, a 6:4 ratio.
Use Isopropyl rubbing alcohol- at least 90% alcohol content or higher.
Preferred gel is aloe vera. If you can’t find it, you could try sourcing a full aloe plant leaf and harvest the gel by slicing the leaf open and scraping out the gel. Aloe Vera leaves (they are a giant succulent plant that looks like a spiked tusk) can usually be found in Hispanic supermarkets and bodegas, as well as stores that stock Caribbean products and produce.

I used something equivalent to the gel, and found a product in the baby care aisle of the pharmacy marked “baby gel” that I used instead.

A small batch goes a long way. I made a 10oz batch (6oz alcohol to 4oz gel) that my husband and I have been using for days every time we venture out. A splash of hand sanitizer is all you need. Let it dry completely on your hands for it to be effective. And follow with a soap and water hand washing as soon as you can.”
-Deb, WITS Program Manager

“Creating a consistent daily ritual is key in keeping a strong mental and physical well being:

Before diving into your everyday to-do list, start your day with:

  • A large glass of water
  • Meditation 
  • Slow Pushups — what I like to call moving meditation
  • Stretching
  • and always your favorite playlist to start your day… along with your coffee 🙂 

Then you are ready for a healthy breakfast to fuel the rest of your productive day!”
Wendy, WITS Senior Program Director

“Here are two meditation resources, on Gaia and on Spotify. For immune health: 1) Stay hydrated (it’s best to drink plain water between meals, not with them). Staying hydrated helps your body naturally eliminate toxins and other bacteria that may cause illness. 2) Incorporate spices into your meals to boost immune health!”
Hollie, WITS National Program Director

“Everyone in my family created their own daily schedule template. It’s not a strict schedule, rather more like a checklist to give structure to the day. 

We also each made a list of activities to keep from teaching for the phone and getting bored. Activities range from big things like Painting Kitchen to little things like Painting Nails! Another tip: Shut down your phone for 2 consecutive hours!” 
Victoria, WITS Chef

“We are each leading on one family “activity” per day. I may want to clean out closets, Andy might want to do a family puzzle, Zane might want to play a video game. We will all engage as a family in that one activity for at least an hour. Each day, a different family member chooses, starting with the eldest (that’s Andy then me then Will then Sadie then Zane). This, combined with a family workout, again rotating leaders, this time from youngest to oldest we have two activities that can ground our day.”
Nancy, WITS Co-Founder and Executive Director

“I recognize I’ll be much more house-bound than I am used to. I also have a lot of computer work to do, and with that, I set a 45 minute timer on my phone. Every time it goes off, I take a break for 3-5 minutes, do some jumping jacks, vinyasa flows, stretches, etc. to keep my body moving and bring oxygen to my mind for increased focus. So far, so good!” 
Katie, WITS Chef 

“Set an obstacle course in your apartment or house. If you have stairs, do a 5-10 minute stair workout. Stretch from head to toe for five minutes.”
Julia, WITS Coach

“If you are able, stay inside but stay connected with family and friends through the Group Video Chat app called ‘Houseparty.’” 
Errol, WITS Program Manager 

Finding His Calling in the Kitchen with a Little Help from WITS

In 2014, while teaching WITS Labs at Alfred E Smith High School in the Bronx, Director Marion Williams saw that all too familiar look in the eye of one particular teenager when he had his hands in a mixing bowl or with a chef knife. The WITS standard programming brought a much-needed focus on nutrition to the school, and gave the students the opportunity to expand their palates through WITS Labs. “Our classes empowered students to learn how to cook for themselves and eat properly, and also encouraged them to take advantage of initiatives that the school already had in place, such as free breakfast and ‘snack swaps,’” says Chef Marion.

A teacher who worked in the school’s career center first introduced Chef Marion to then sophomore Isaish Thomas. He was taken by our cooking classes and wanted to learn more. Because there was little opportunity for one to pursue culinary interest outside of directly participating in the WITS Labs, Marion decided to create her own internship program. She took Isaiah under her tutelage, along with three others. “This young man inspired me while I was in the high school,” says Marion. “Many days, people wanted me to just give up on these students, and I had to press forward that Isaiah (the youngest 1 of 4 interns I had while there) was always waiting for me and looking for our next project in and out of the school.” Isaiah began as a classroom assistant, helping with set-up and clean-up of WITS Labs. “I assisted with anything she needed help with, because I wanted to get as involved as possible,” says Isaiah. 

Wellness in the Schools could see that he was serious about culinary education. Says Isaiah, “I’ve always loved cooking. I’ve never had a problem figuring out what I wanted to cook. I can always follow a recipe, and tweak it and improve it and make it my own. It’s what I find so interesting about cooking.” Even though he was still in high school, Marion pulled some strings and gave Isaiah the opportunity to work with our WITS Executive Chef Bill Telepan. He interned at the eponymous restaurant Telepan, and received intensive culinary instruction from Chef Bill and his staff for a year and a half. “I would head over to the restaurant as soon as my day at school was finished, and would be there until 8:30 or 9,” says Isaiah. “I worked mostly in the garde manger section, which is basically where cold dishes were prepared, and I helped with its prep work. I thought my time at Telepan was great – not a lot of people were able to work at such an amazing place. And I was just starting off on my culinary journey! And, of course – working with Chef Telepan was amazing…I look up to him a lot. He’s always doing something, keeping himself busy, getting things done.” 

Isaiah graduated from Alfred E.Smith last year and is now studying Culinary Arts and Agriculture at SUNY Cobleskill. He tries to cook for his friends and family as much as possible within the limits of his tiny dorm room kitchen. “You have to work with what you’ve got…for example, you learn to remix mac and cheese with spring onions!” 

Along with being a full-time student, he currently works at a catering center. While he has experience in the restaurant field, he has found that certain aspects of catering really interest him. “I’ve been working with this boss for four years, and he’s been exposing me to a lot of what on-premise catering looks like. I find it really cool. You know what you are preparing and what you are getting, and you get to work with customers to customize and create.”  

Isaiah will be graduating this spring, and his hope is to find a job within the culinary field so he can use the skills he has learned and honed over the past six years. So much of the work we do at Wellness in the Schools is an indirect consequence of our standard programming – through a simple WITS Lab,we were able to shed light on a culinary path for a focused young sophomore. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to work at Alfred E. Smith years many years ago, to have crossed paths with Isaiah, and to get this chance to see how one small encounter has shaped his life. 

Some BITS of WITS for a Healthier 2020

By: Melissa Neubart

The year 2020 is here, and if you’re making a New Year’s resolution (or several), you’re not alone. Rather than give up on this perennial brand of self-improvement, why not try a new approach and make daily, small improvements for this year?  These 8 “micro-behaviors” (WITS BITS, if you will) have been submitted by our wonderful staff across the country! If you’re inspired by the micro-resolutions below, take a photo performing your healthy habit- and tag us on social! @wellnessintheschools


One of my favorite ways to kick off the day right is with an avocado bowl for breakfast. It’s simple and delicious and keeps me full through lunch. Here’s my recipe. 

1/2 avocado
Your favorite spice on top; right now mine is Bahārāt (Bahārāt is an aromatic, warm, and sweet spice blend typically made with a combination of black peppercorns, coriander, cumin, allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, paprika, and nutmeg.)
2 tablespoons of kale pesto
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
1 egg (boiled, scrambled or fried)

Submitted by Chef Hollie Greene, National Senior Program Director, based in California

Commit to eating a healthy breakfast every morning.  It helps you to be more mindful and conscious of your diet, setting a precedent for the day ahead. This sends a strong signal to the subconscious mind about the importance of our health. 

Submitted by Jami Bailey, WITS Chef, Washington D.C.


The six to eight hours of recommended nightly sleep is a long period to go without any water consumption. I’ve started leaving a water bottle by my bed at night so that the first thing I do in the morning is to drink some water. I always wake up thirsty and love coffee in the morning, but I have discovered that my digestive system feels much better when I drink water before my caffeine! 

Submitted by Julia Leitermann, WITS Coach in New York City 


Breathe:  Easy as it sounds, I find myself holding my breath when I’m focusing on a project or stressed about something.  It’s always a good idea to remind your body to breathe. This is how I calm down: 

4-7-8 Breathing:  Great for when you are anxious, I’ve started to get my kids on the recess yard breathing when they need a break to “catch their breath.”  Inhale for 4 seconds through your nose, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds, and repeat! After a few rounds, you will notice your heart rate slow down and your body relax. 

Submitted by Julia Leitermann, WITS Coach in New York City 


Reduce the blue light on your electronics. I’m not saying that you need to reduce the use of electronics in your life, but lower the lighting! You can often download an application or extension that will reduce the blue light in your screens, which is what can keep you awake and give you headaches! 

Submitted by Julia Leitermann, WITS Coach in New York City 


One simple micro behavior is to walk/take the stairs everywhere! Maybe instead of transferring on the subway for one stop, you walk an extra ten minutes/blocks, or instead of taking the elevator/escalator you take the stairs. This simple swap is an easy way to get your steps in! 

Submitted by Julia Leitermann, WITS Coach in New York City 


State the best part of your day and the funniest part of your day. Practice this daily with either a friend, coworker or family member. This can happen over text, phone or in person.  It’s a nice mental exercise especially for the toughest days when it feels like nothing went right, but when asked what was the best part, usually you can find something like : “the cashier at the grocery store was very friendly” or “I ate my favorite breakfast today.” 

Submitted by Annie Hanrahan, Program Director, Washington D.C.


Spaghetti squash is an amazing substitute for traditional pasta! Cut it the short way (hamburger vs hot dog) to get longer “spaghetti”!

Submitted by Emilie Hernandez, WITS Coach, New York City


After work or school, we may quickly scarf down our meal while watching our favorite show, only to realize that our plate is empty. Before your first bite – use your senses to appreciate your meal- what colors is your dish made of? How does it smell? What kind of textures make up your dish? And … then – dig in!

Submitted by Melissa Neubart, Director of Development and Partnerships