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Ed Day, Rockland County Executive

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 24, 2020
Contact: John Lyon, Director of Strategic Communications (845) 638-5645
                 Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, D.O., M.P.H., CPE, DABFM, FAAFP (845) 364-2512

ROCKLAND COUNTY RESIDENTS BENEFIT FROM CREATING HEALTHY SCHOOLS AND COMMUNITIES

New City, NY, - Rockland County Executive Ed Day and County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert announce the successful completion of Creating Healthy Schools and Communities (CHSC), a 5-year project in the East Ramapo Central School District (ERCSD) and surrounding communities funded by the New York State Department of Health. The grant's purpose was to reduce risk factors for chronic disease in high-need school districts and neighborhoods by increasing the students' and residents' ability to get more physical activity and improve access to healthy nutrition. Rockland County Department of Health (RCDOH) partnered with the ERCSD, the Town of Clarkstown, Village of Suffern, and worked with businesses and non-profit organizations in Ramapo, Clarkstown, and Haverstraw to improve policies and practices that impact physical education, physical fitness, walkable communities, pedestrian safety, and access to healthier foods and beverages in schools and local stores.

Over the 5-year grant that ended in the fall, all ERCSD schools received training, resources, and assistance to improve their school environments. The district updated its Student Wellness Policy in 2016 and, by doing so, strengthened the ability of schools to promote physical activity and healthy nutrition. Several schools received national awards for their work in making their schools healthier.

This year, six schools: Lime Kiln Elementary School, Summit Park Elementary School, Kakiat STEAM Academy, Chestnut Ridge Middle School, Ramapo High School, and Spring Valley High School, received the bronze award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Healthy Schools Program and are listed as one of America's Healthiest Schools (https://www.healthiergeneration.org/campaigns/americas-healthiest-schools#2020-ahs-state-ny). Less than 1% of schools nation-wide achieve this prestigious award, and in 2020, the ERCSD schools were the only schools in New York State to do so. Each school demonstrated that they promote physical activity, sell only foods and beverages that meet the Smarts Snacks in School Standards. These schools also maintain well-trained school food service staff, support employee wellness, and implement their Student Wellness Policy.

In 2019, eight schools won the USDA's HealthierUS School Challenge: Smarter Lunchroom bronze and silver awards: Early Childhood Center, Eldorado Elementary School, Lime Kiln Elementary School, Margetts Elementary School, Chestnut Ridge Middle School (silver), Pomona Middle School, Ramapo High School, and Spring Valley High School (silver). These schools also demonstrated compliance with nutrition regulations and best practices to keep students physically active in school. A video showing how each school used healthy practices can be found here https://bit.ly/35OSIZb.

In addition to winning awards, the grant's technical and financial resources helped all schools upgrade their physical education equipment and PE teacher training, thus improving the district's ability to improve student fitness and health. Using grant money, each high school installed treadmills, stationary bikes, and rowing machines to improve fitness training. In addition, significant funding allowed the district to create a state of the art fitness room in Ramapo High School that will serve thousands of students.

One marker of a healthy school is promoting physical activity for the whole family. All of the 14 ERCSD schools now have an outdoor walking trail on their property. Signs mark a loop around a playground, building, or sports field to encourage users to take a break, walk-off their stress, and improve their health all at the same time. This is one of several efforts by the district to address employee well-being as well.

While students and teachers benefited from healthier school environments, local employers improved their work environments. Local communities became safer for pedestrians, and corner stores started selling more fruits and vegetables, whole-grain foods, and water. Assistance and resources were given to corner stores to help store managers promote healthier choices, and to date, 17 convenience stores, ethnic groceries, and small cafés made improvements. Twenty-eight local small businesses that employ mostly residents completed the Worksite Wellness Program that encouraged businesses to develop policies and practices that encourage employees to make healthier choices at work. These practices include drinking water, consuming reduced-sodium foods, and exercising. Six worksites, Haverstraw King's Daughters Public Library, Lower Hudson Valley Perinatal Network, BRIDGES, Head Start of Rockland, Konbit Neg Lakay, and Jawonio, Inc., won health department recognition for the sustainable changes they made to improve employee health.

Many communities lack sidewalks and other infrastructure that improve pedestrian safety. Unsafe conditions often result in a lack of physical activity, whereas access to safe walking is an easy way to help reduce the burden of chronic diseases. To improve community access to physical activity, CHSC funds helped the Rockland County Department of Health, Village of Suffern, Access Physical Therapy, and Good Samaritan Hospital to create a walking loop in the village. In addition, the village committed to promoting the importance of exercise and a healthy lifestyle.

In spring 2020, CHSC responded to the sudden need for food assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The network already established through Creating Healthy Schools and Communities among local agencies and volunteers, faith-based organizations, and municipal leaders helped to quickly establish a food hub to distribute fresh and healthy food to Emergency Food Programs. These distributions were made to food pantries, soup kitchens, and breakfast programs around the County. Within three months, they distributed approximately 334,701 pounds of food.

One of the many legacies left by Creating Healthy Schools and Communities is strengthened partnerships between the community, school district, and public health to improve the lives of residents for years to come. For more information, contact the Rockland County Department of Health, School Health Coordinator, (845) 364-2360.

 

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