Saturday, September 29, 2012

November is Healthy Lifestyles Month

To promote childhood health and wellness, National PTA created Healthy Lifestyles Month. Throughout the month of November, PTAs nationwide participate in PTA Healthy Lifestyles Month by conducting programs and events that promote health education, physical activity and parental involvement. Knowing that a healthy child can achieve and learn more, PTAs are encouraging families to increase their physical activity, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, develop community oriented physical activity programs and promote healthy lifelong behaviors. National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Month has encouraged PTA to get creative and develop clever initiatives that make living healthy fun.

The National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Program focuses on the connections between healthy 
lifestyles and student achievement.  The mission of the National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyle program is to aid parents and other community organizations with the tools and resources they need in order to develop and promote healthier schools and foster healthy parental engagement.  

1. Increase the connection between healthy lifestyles and student achievement  
2. To reduce the risk and prevalence of  childhood obesity 
3. Encourage physical activity and healthy eating among school age children (grades K-12) 
4. Provide resources and guidance in the areas of obesity control management  

All local PTAs are encouraged to plan events and activities to promote the health and wellness of their communities. It can be something as small as featuring an article in their newsletter or as big as organizing a 5K walk. To support local units’ efforts, the PTA national office is offering a limited number of PTA Healthy Lifestyles Grants of up to $1,000.   

Visit the National PTA Health & Wellness page for more details.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Epi-pen Legislation and How it Affects our Students

On April 26, 2012 Governor Bob McDonnell signed House Bill 1107 (Greason) and Senate Bill 656 (McEachin), which require local school boards to adopt and implement policies for the possession and administration of epinephrine in Virginia's public schools.  Speaking about the legislation, Governor McDonnell said, "Virginia must do everything it can to ensure the safety of our young people while they are in school."

The biennial budget included $200,000 to support the purchase of epinephrine injectors for public schools in Virginia during the 2012-2013 school year. State-level guidelines were developed on July 1, 2012 and school boards have adopted and implemented the new policies for this school year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported an 18% increase in food allergy among school-aged children from 1997 to 2007. According to a clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 16% to 18% of children with a food allergy have experienced a reaction in school and approximately 25% of allergic reactions or treatments for anaphylaxis occur in children whose allergy was previously undiagnosed.

CCPS revised current policies to become compliant with the new legislation to provide at least two doses of auto-injectable epinephrine (non-student specific or stock epinephrine) in each school.  A few important things to note with the adoption of these policies are as follows:

  1. Non-student specific epinephrine is not intended to replace student-specific orders or parent-provided individual medications.  Parents of students with known allergies are still required to complete the appropriate paperwork and provide prescribed medication for their student.
  2. This medication is to be administered by a school nurse or employee of the School Board who is authorized and trained in the administration of epinephrine to any student believed to be having an anaphylactic reaction on school premises, during the academic day.
  3. This policy does not extend to activities off school grounds (including transportation to and from school, field trips, etc.) or outside of the academic day (sporting events, extra-curricular activities, etc.).  This policy also does not extend to activities held at a school facility that are held before or after school and sponsored by an outside organization, such as a PTA.
  4. Building level administration shall be responsible for identifying at least two employees, in addition to the school nurse (RN or LPN), to be trained in the administration of epinephrine by auto-injector. Only trained personnel should administer epinephrine to a student believed to be having an anaphylactic reaction.
Although the Parent Teacher Association works very closely with schools and students in educational settings, it is critical that parents are aware that these policies do not apply to the PTA.  Although parent volunteers associated with a PTA may supervise CCPS students during before and after school events or enrichment programs sponsored by the PTA, we are in fact a separate entity.  Some critical points of discussion within your local unit should include the following:

  • PTAs/PTSAs do not have access to student files or information including those regarding medication or student health issues.  When registering students for PTA sponsored programs, you may wish to ask if the student has any specific medical needs or allergies.
  • The PTA does not have a nurse or authorized person who may access and administer medications.  PTA volunteers are not employees and are not required to participate in any training including CPR, First Aid or medication administration.  While volunteers are encouraged to participate in any available training, the National PTA does not currently support a resolution requiring volunteers to seek training.
  • PTAs/PTSAs do not have access to medications kept on school property such as the clinic. This includes both prescription medications and non-student specific epinephrine.  While your local unit may be sponsoring the program or event using your school facility, the organization is simply renting the facility outside of the academic day, just as any other organization would.  
  • Although the school clinic or school office may still be operating during the hours of your before or after school event/program, employees who are trained in the administration of epinephrine may not still be on school property.  For example, the school nurse may leave right after the final bell rings dismissing students, however, your program may take place after school.
Suggestions to enhance overall student wellness during your PTA sponsored event may include:
  1. Ensure that parents of students participating are aware that your PTA does not have access to student files, information pertaining to student health issues, medications kept in the clinic, etc.
  2. Gather information regarding student specific medical needs or allergies when registering students and keep this readily available during your program.
  3. Purchase at least 1 first aid kit including gloves and keep it in an area accessible to your parent volunteers.
  4. Require outside vendors or businesses participating in your program or event to sign a general liability statement.
  5. Ask parents to sign a waiver explaining their rights and responsibilities.  Be transparent.  Make sure they understand what your PTA is capable of handling in the case of an emergency or medical need.
  6. Talk to and partner with your school Administration and encourage parents to also speak with their school if they have questions pertaining to student wellness.
  7. Provide resources and literature to your membership and reinforce the importance of parental involvement in student wellness in schools.
  8. Start a Health & Safety Committee within your local unit.  
  9. Take into consideration certain health needs or allergies that students may present with when planning activities, events and programs. 
  10. Attend training opportunities or encourage members of your PTA Board to attend if they work directly with students.
  For more information regarding legislation specific to epinephrine in schools, please visit Virginia's Legislative System.  To review the Chesterfield County Public School's policies (4130, 4131, 4133, 4134) as mentioned above, please visit Board Docs.  

To snack or not to snack? IS that the question?

Chesterfield schools encourage healthy snacks and limit celebrations that involve food during the school day. Not only is our school district working to promote student wellness and preventing and reducing childhood obesity but many students have food sensitivities that can lead to life-threatening reactions. At home, parents can manage the foods their children are exposed to.  Managing exposure at school is more of a challenge, so schools take reasonable steps to meet that challenge by asking all parents to follow four simple guidelines:

1) If you bring food to your child at school, do not bring food for anyone else’s child and do not share your food with any other child.
2) If you wish to send treats for other students, for a birthday or any other celebration, send non-food treats such as pencils, bookmarks, etc.
3) Unless specifically asked to do so, do not send any food to school for consumption by other students.
4) Talk to your children about the problems associated with sharing food at school and discourage them from doing so.

These new guidelines have been adopted by throughout the County and in order to help support this initiative, Chesterfield County Council of  PTAs/PTSAs is working to create additional guidelines that include a list of Acceptable Foods/Beverages approved for use with the classroom celebrations that are organized or sponsored through the PTA.  The goal is to encourage healthier eating throughout the entire school day and to ensure that students aren't receiving high fat, high sugar or empty calorie snacks outside of the lunch room.  

Many of our local unit PTAs, especially in the Elementary Schools, recruit Room Parent volunteers who are responsible for planning and supervising the various classroom celebrations.  The idea involving the new guidelines would encourage Room Parents to then work with their teachers and class parents to ensure that the acceptable foods list is followed when planning in-class celebrations/activities sponsored by the PTA.  These guidelines would help support the healthy eating initiative and also ensure that food sensitivities are being taken into consideration.  

If you poll your parent population, you will most likely find that the majority of them would support these initiatives and would be delighted to see the days of the never ending cupcakes and cookies go away (or at least be reduced).  The idea isn't to take away all of the sugary treats that our students look forward to, but to limit what they are exposed to.  I recently heard someone say "no one wants to be the cupcake police" and while that is true, there is a way to compromise and find a healthy balance that both students and parents will appreciate and look forward to.   

For a recommended food list or other ideas about how you can help your local unit support student wellness through PTA sponsored events, contact me at  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Healthier School Lunches

Welcome Back-To-School and to a new year with your County Council of PTAs.  As you may have noticed, school lunches have a whole new look this year as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) updated nutrition standards for school meals. Changes to school lunches went into affect beginning with the 2012-2013 school year.  As parents, it can be difficult to navigate what these changes mean and how you can support your kids and your school in making healthy choices.  You have probably heard the facts before: Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in the United States have tripled. Today, more than 23 million children and teens are overweight or obese, which places them at an increased risk for serious diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke. Ensuring that school meals are healthy and in line with current nutrition science is important for kids’ health as well as for academics.

PTA has been closely involved with federal health policy since its inception.  Most recently, PTA members successfully advocated for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that passed Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 13, 2010. A major provision of the bill is what has prompted the changes we are seeing in school lunches this year.  The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed USDA to update the NSLP’s meal pattern and nutrition standards based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

The new meal pattern increases the availability of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the school menu as well as a shift to low-fat or nonfat milk and limits on sodium and unhealthy fats. New dietary specifications also set specific calorie limits to ensure age-appropriate meals for grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. While school lunches must meet Federal meal requirements, decisions about what specific foods to serve and how they are prepared are made by local school food authorities.

So you are probably wondering what the changes are and how this has affected one of your students' favorite times of day; lunch time.  Here is a comprehensive and easy to understand comparison of what lunch requirements were prior to this year:  

We have received positive feedback regarding the new meal standards and students across the County seem to be adapting to them well.  The nutritional integrity of school meals has always been a priority to CCPS and the school system is meeting and exceeding the challenges set forth in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. 

If you have questions about the new standards or any other matters pertaining to school nutrition, please contact the CCPS School Nutritionist office at (804) 743-3728.  Additional information can also be found on the CCPS website by visiting the Food and Nutrition Services page.

Have a safe and healthy school year!