Oak Park’s Seven Generations Ahead hosted an informational forum May 10 for area school officials on how to create and implement a successful wellness policy. The forum, Cultivating Healthy School Food Environments, took place last Thursday at St. Giles Parish, 1101 Columbian and included presentations by officials from Chicago, Oak Park, and surrounding suburban school districts. About 50 people attended and took part in workshops during the morning-to-afternoon forum.

Gary Cuneen, executive director of Seven Generations Ahead, said for some school districts, wellness policies were not yet on their radar. But state and federal governments, he said, now require school districts that participate in the federal school lunch program to create their own wellness policy. The wellness plans, according to federal guidelines, not only should include healthy food servings to students but physical activity and an educational component as well.

District 97 is currently establishing its own wellness policy, which Seven Generations is assisting with.

In a workshop he led, Cuneen told participants to start with basic and achievable goals instead of shooting too high, too soon.

“You have to be realistic,” he said. “You may not want to do the whole shebang. It may be better to look at two or three things and work on implementing those things.”

Cuneen added that it’s important to document what you’ve done from the beginning.

Donna Fishman, project director for the School Nurse Leadership Project and a workshop facilitator at Thursday’s forum, advises not to try and reinvent the wheel in creating a policy.

During the presentation portion, officials from Oak Park and area schools talked about their schools’ policies.

Among the presenters was Abby Rose, a dance therapist and physical education teacher at Namaste Charter School in Chicago.

The school takes its name and some of its philosophy from the Hindu word, which is a traditional Hindu greeting, meaning “I bow to you.”

The school starts each day with yoga. Its lunchroom menu does not include chips or fries, and each day, students get an hour of physical activity.

The school was founded by a former public school teacher who took issue with what schools were serving students.

In some Western societies, Rose noted, Namaste has come to be associated with such things as spirituality and yoga.

The three-year-old Namaste Charter School, located in the McKinley Park community on the Southwest Side of Chicago, has an enrollment of 190 students in K-3.

D97/D200 lunch program expands this fall

Seven Generations Ahead Executive Director Gary Cuneen is looking forward to next year’s expanded lunch program collaboaration between District 97 and Oak Park and River Forest High School.

OPRF will provide lunches to all Dist. 97 schools this fall. Cuneen and his organization were among the groups pushing for healthier foods to be served in Oak Park schools. But the previous administration wasn’t interested in changing the program, Cuneen recalls.

Current Dist. 97 Supt. Constance Collins was more open to the idea, Cuneen said, noting that the pilot program at Beye and Irving elementary schools has been well-received.

“It really marks the transformation of the school lunch program,” he said of program’s expansion. “Oak Park has a chance to be a role model for the rest of the Chicago area.”

-Terry Dean

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