Auburn Elementary recognized for role in student health

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published August 11, 2020

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ROCHESTER HILLS/AUBURN HILLS — Auburn Elementary School is one of 50 schools in the state to be recognized for fostering healthy eating, physical activity habits and tobacco-free lifestyles.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon said the Michigan schools recognized with School Wellness Awards have “gone above and beyond to create healthy environments that support lifelong healthy habits.”

“Despite unexpected school closures, teachers and staff across the state have continued to support knowledge building and healthy habits through opportunities to participate in physical activity, nutritious meals and snacks, and to engage families in health-promotion activities using technology,” Gordon said in a statement.

The state program, according to officials, aims to engage schools statewide in creating healthy school environments by establishing School Wellness Teams, utilizing Healthy School Action Tools, and implementing sustainable policy and environmental changes.

In order to be recognized by the state, schools begin by completing and submitting the School Wellness Award online application, which consists of eight sections. Sections 1 through 6 focus on topic areas related to a healthy school environment and align with objectives in the Michigan Health and Wellness Plan to create healthy lifestyles. Section 7 provides an opportunity to share more detail on how the school’s environment supports health and includes the submission of a success story. Section 8 covers the official award application submission process, including confirming administrative approval for the award application.

Auburn Elementary School earned a silver award from the state.

Sarah Smith-Conlan, a behavior interventionist at Auburn Elementary, said the school launched the snack pantry in October 2019, filled with donated snacks from Auburn families thanks to a donation drive coordinated by the fifth grade student council.

“At school, we’re looking at ways to support development in all areas, not just academic areas, and address deficits we see across the whole spectrum of what children need to be healthy, successful and socially-emotionally whole,” she explained.

Nearly 70% of Auburn students receive free or reduced lunch, according to Conlan, who said Auburn staff noticed that many students were arriving to school without a snack or with an unhealthy one. The school was able to offer students a fresh apple daily, but because many students continued to be hungry, a snack pantry was implemented.

“Kids aren’t always provided with a snack at lunch, or if they were, sometimes the snacks they brought from home weren’t the healthiest, so we wanted to have an opportunity for any student that was hungry throughout the day — regardless of their free and reduced lunch status, regardless of anything — if they are hungry, there is something they can eat that’s healthy and something that has some variety,” Conlan said.

Students who need a snack simply visit the office, where staff meet them with a smile, conversation and open cupboards.

“Students can come in and ask for a snack with no questions asked. If a student has permission to leave the classroom and come down and ask for a snack, they are greeted by secretaries or paraprofessionals or interventionalists, and we help them pick out some snacks and put them in a brown paper bag for them to take back to their classroom during snack time in the classroom,” Conlan said.

In the first 10 days, 298 snacks were distributed, with monthly totals of 400 or more snacks being given out.

Conlan said students visited the snack pantry for both the physical and emotional boost, and teachers quickly noticed changes in students who used the service. Students continued to eat apples, but they also had healthy and filling snacks to accompany them, which Conlan said allowed them to prioritize their learning after their needs were met.

For more information about Auburn Elementary School or the snack pantry program, call (248) 537-6500.