The students of P.S./M.S. 95 Sheila Mencher don’t just eat their fruits and vegetables, they make sure they’re chowing down on healthy mental meals as well.
Through the Wellness in the Schools program, students at the Hillman Avenue school set their minds and bodies right through health class and a revised lunch menu. Some kids are even taking the tips home.
“We learned about what we should eat to keep our bones healthy,” said Sidratul Choudhury about the lessons from her health class. “And we also learned about the digestive system and how the systems separate the nutrients from the bad stuff.”
The 9-year-old, like many of the students who take Alyse Rosen’s primary school-level health course, are learning ways to combat harmful habits. They’re also studying the five major food groups as well as physical fitness.
“Sometimes when I go home, I drink some milk and I eat my apples,” fourth-grader Xiomara Brown said. “If I didn’t run out of grapes at home, I eat my grapes.”
And when her sister heads to the softball field, Brown sometimes plays with her.
Rosen teaches her classes about what foods provide which nutrients, and how each can help. Christopher Maldonado and his group recently learned about the dietary benefits of foods like chicken and fish.
“We talked about the proteins, and we had to find out what foods are in protein,” the fourth-grader said. “I like eating vegetables at the (cafeteria’s salad) bar. I also eat the fruit with the French fries and burgers, and at home, I eat rice with some protein.”
The kids of P.S. 95 are retaining their lessons on health, but Rosen’s class is only the tip of the iceberg. Marion Williams, the chef and program director of the nonprofit Wellness in the Schools program, has lunch on a low-fat lock. Students can choose from an array of fruits and vegetables through the salad bar.
The program’s goal is to end child obesity by partnering with public schools and providing nutritious food and education. Based on a National County Health Rankings report from 2017, more than 40 percent of Bronx children live in poverty, which hinders access to well-balanced meals and diets. Last year, the Bronx was once again named the least healthy borough in New York for the ninth straight year based on an economic snapshot report from state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
But between the revised lunch program and the health course, P.S. 95 is attempting to change statistics.
So when it comes to snacks for Victor Nikolov, he chooses his favorite fruits like apples, strawberries and mangoes. In addition, most of the meals served in the school’s cafeteria are plant-based — a diet based on fruits, vegetables and whole grains with low servings of meat and dairy.
Yet, the wellness program is not a vegetarian organization. P.S. 95 also offers cooking classes where students are shown different alternatives to beloved meals.
A recent recipe lesson focused on a low-fat dish alternative to traditional mashed potatoes. Garlic and vegetable broth was used instead of butter and high-sodium seasonings.
“Some parents were like they’re not going to eat that,” Chef Williams said. “But kids will always try new things.”
With the combined efforts of both Rosen and Williams, the students learn what it means to stay in shape.
“I try to make (my lessons) as relatable as possible to the kids because I think then they’ll have an interest in it,” Rosen said. “And then they’ll be more engaged and they’ll apply it to their lives.”
Through a recent physical activity lesson, she challenged kids to put down their video games to get up and move. She proposed the children take the exercises they learned at school, home, and to do them when they could.
“What you’re learning in health is not just for the time in health class,” Rosen said. “These are lifelong habits. Things you won’t even have to think about. They’ll just be second nature for you to eat healthily and exercise and to take care of your body.”