Wake Ed

Schools encouraged to create gardens and have students walk and bike to campus

Wake County school leaders say they want students to be more physically active through the creation of school gardens and opportunities to walk and bicycle to school.

The Wake County school system’s updated “school wellness policy” says the district supports the incorporation of school gardens as an educational tool and an opportunity for physical activity. The policy also says the district supports “active transportation to and from school, including biking and walking.”

Both provisions were recommended by the School Health Advisory Council, a group that advises the Wake school system on health issues.

“This is a policy that’s really putting community input in policy and I think it’s path-breaking in that respect,” school board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner said at last week’s board meeting.

The revised policy received unanimous initial approval on June 6. Final approval could come as soon as Tuesday.

Several Wake schools already participate in annual national Walk to School and Bike To School events. Five Wake schools are part of a safe routes project funded by the John Rex Endowment to encourage more students to walk and bike to school.

School board member Jim Martin, who chairs the policy committee, said encouraging more walkers and bikers will reduce carpool traffic at schools.

“One of the biggest components to the carbon footprint that we have to deal with is carpool,” he said. “The number of hours that cars idle with one person in them in front of our schools twice a day adds pretty significantly to our (carbon footprint).”

School board critics may note though that Wake still buses some low-income students for socioeconomic diversity reasons. Those students don’t have the option to walk or bicycle to school.

The updated policy also comes at a time when some Wake schools have gardens. For instance, students in the “Blooming Botany” elective class at Hunter Elementary harvest items such as kale, broccoli, lettuce, spinach and beets from the Raleigh school’s garden.

Federal regulations say food grown in school gardens can’t be served to students during the food day.

“I’d like us to be able to use some of that food that comes from our school gardens,” Martin said. “Right now that does go to the Food Bank and is used appropriately.

“But for students to actually taste their work is part of the educational process. We still have work on that one.”

Most of the wording in the policy either comes from the N.C. School Boards Association or reflects current Wake practice. For instance, the policy says:

▪ Recess may not be taken away as a form of punishment;

▪ Snacks provided on campus during the school day, such as for classroom celebrations, should be commercially prepared. No homemade items are allowed;

▪ All food sold during the school day, including at fundraisers, must comply with federal healthy snacks requirements;

▪ The school board encourages alternative fundraising activities that don’t involve food.

Martin complained at the May 23 policy committee meeting that the food requirements promoted a “nanny state” But school board attorney Jonathan Blumberg said much of the wording was dictated by law.