Reflecting On A Year of Progress in Trenton

By Anwar Rasheed, WITS Chef

We recently held our first WITS BITS series at Columbus Elementary School, and with the help and participation of the school community it was a rousing success. WITS BITS are simple, 20-minute lessons created by Wellness in the Schools that use hands-on demonstrations to emphasize basic nutrition concepts. For this session, we discussed black beans as a protein and a vegetable.

Before the students arrived, I had prepared a black bean dip. At the end of the lesson, students received a pita chip to dip and eat, and they also got to hold and smell cilantro, which was one of the dip’s ingredients. This was a great way to engage the students interactively.

Chef Anwar interacts with Columbus Elementary School students during WITS BITS.

The enthusiasm from students and faculty was amazing. Having a hands-on leader like Principal Dewar Wood and a faculty willing to give 100% participation and always makes the process of promoting and executing our programming easier. Ms. Wood is my go-to person at Columbus, and she did an incredible job making everyone aware of and excited about the WITS BITS programming.

Seeing the students and teachers enthusiastically march into the cafeteria for the lesson and give thumbs up all around at the conclusion reminded me that our work with Ready, Set, Healthy! is taking hold. While there’s still much more work to accomplish, it’s humbling to reflect as I near the end of my first year with the RSH collective in Trenton and see our mission beginning to come to life. The students and the staff have a hunger and a thirst for what’s going on. They have a genuine interest in wellness. They’re curious about scratch-cooking and how it can be executed in school as well as at home.

Trenton students cut peppers during WITS Chili Labs in March 2018.

Wellness committees are becoming part of the community in our four Trenton schools. At WITS, we see wellness committees as one of the most crucial aspects of a school becoming healthier and more self-sufficient. Their formation and success is a sign that community stakeholders are becoming invested in changing the culture of their school. As the WITS Chef it’s important for me to practice wellness as an example for everyone. But even more essential is seeing members of the community, like the school cooks, take on leadership in these wellness committees and become role models themselves.

Our work continues to move forward. Although at times the progress can feel slow, these schools — the students, the parents, the faculty and staff – have great acceptance and enthusiasm for our mission, and the results have been inspiring.