Throughout 2019, Food Council staff, Council Members, and partners will be visiting Montgomery County Public Schools that have implemented exemplary wellness initiatives that encourage students to make healthier, more conscientious choices. We are hopeful that sharing and celebrating these wonderful accomplishments will motivate schools throughout the County to adopt similar wellness programs and promote a celebration of existing and evolving school wellness initiatives.
At A. Mario Loiderman Middle School, students are provided with a variety of opportunities to engage in physical and mental wellness activities, to care for the environment, and to manage their stress. Loiderman is one of several schools in Montgomery County where Linkages to Learning services are offered to students. This program of the Department of Health and Human Services provides access to mental health professionals, workshops, food assistance support, and more within Montgomery County elementary and middle schools with the highest rates of students receiving Free and Reduced Meals. At Loiderman, the Linkages to Learning staff help to oversee stress-free lunches, distribution of food bags, and harvesting produce from the school garden for students to take home.
Stress-free lunches were introduced as an alternative for students that became overwhelmed in the traditional lunch environment, where roughly 350 students gather in the cafeteria. This option allows students to participate in calming activities such as art projects, to learn mindfulness strategies and breathing techniques, and to have a quieter lunch period while remaining in a social setting. The school also has a Mindfulness Club, and a “Circle Room” where students can relax and step away from the stress of the classroom.
The school garden is managed by the Garden Club, which consists of 20-25 students of all grade-levels and two staff members to supervise. Kale, leafy greens, and herbs can be found in the garden, and the produce that is harvested is sent home with students to share with their families. For students that may not have consistent access to fresh produce at home, this is a wonderful opportunity to try nutritious new foods. The school is excited to be receiving a tower garden in the fall of 2019 to further their gardening efforts.
Principal Nicole Sosik shared that many students have expressed an interest in introducing a salad bar in the cafeteria, because they want to have more healthy options and try new foods beyond the existing school lunch menu. Recently, the school installed two water-bottle filling stations, and this has been a hit among both students and staff members who want to drink more water during the day while reducing the need for plastic water bottles. The school is currently working with the Recycling Club to elevate student awareness and involvement of the recycling programs, and has brand new receptacles and signage to encourage more recycling.
In the future, the school hopes to create an outdoor classroom space in the courtyard, so that classes can be taught outside and students can experience a different learning environment.