School Wellness Campaign: Arcola Elementary School

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. 

355 schools throughout the entire United States were considered for the “America’s Healthiest School, 2019” title, and of those, seven are in Maryland. Arcola Elementary School is one of them. This bustling school in Silver Spring is a model for providing wellness opportunities for students during and outside of school time, and a partnership with the University of Maryland Food Supplement Nutrition Education (FSNE) program provides students with food education opportunities on a regular basis in the classroom. Students are encouraged to practice mental and physical wellness throughout the day, and the staff at Arcola lead by example.

Tanner Nelson, one of the physical education teachers at the school, sends a “Wellness Wednesday” email out to staff on a weekly basis with a variety of activities that teachers can incorporate into their lessons. This might include stretching between subjects or deep breathing exercises, along with dozens of other options. Staff members have also created a “Step Counter” map of the school, so that teachers and students know how many steps they accrue while walking through the hallways, and can choose alternate routes to fit in extra steps. Arcola was the Montgomery County host site for “Walk to School Day” in 2019, with the majority of students walking in groups to school as a way of promoting a sense of community, recognizing safe routes to schools, and increasing physical activity.  The school has also created a mindfulness room,  where students can go to have a quiet, safe space for thinking, meeting with a counselor, or just a temporary escape from the classroom.

All MCPS students have the option for school-provided breakfast and/or lunch; at Arcola, a Title I school, all students may receive breakfast and lunch at no cost. The cafeteria manager shared that many students take the pre-sliced fruit and veggies that are offered, and signage in the lunch line and seating area educates students about seasonal produce and making healthy food choices. Several families at the school receive “Smart Sacks” through Manna Food Center, so that food access on the weekends is less of a struggle.

The school recently received a wellness grant from MCPS and the Institute for Public Health Innovation for a garden, which will be completed by Spring 2020. The staff plans to use this garden in tandem with the lessons of the curriculum, and to work with the food educators at FNSE to incorporate the herbs and produce into snacks for the students to try. Currently, FSNE staff come to the school on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to educate students about healthy food choices, unique fruits and vegetables, and even provides easy snack recipes that children can make at home with basic ingredients. FNSE has repeatedly hosted field trips for Arcola students to the Crossroads Farmers Market in Takoma Park, where students enhance their exposure and understanding of the local food system and are even given a few dollars to spend on fresh produce to take home. During the Crossroads Farmers Market visit earlier this year, cabbage was the most popular choice amongst the students!

Thank you to the staff at Arcola Elementary School for allowing us to have a first hand look at the incredible wellness initiatives offered to Arcola students, and for the school-wide commitment to wellness!