by Nancy Griffin-Bonnaire, Discover Fauquier
Many of us look forward to the New Year and often make resolutions to launch a fresh start to lead healthier lives. Luckily, Fauquier has a built-in opportunity that aligns with this idea of a fresh start. Even its name is fresh—literally.
Fauquier Reaches for Excellence in School Health (FRESH) is a Fauquier County Public Schools’ (FCPS) program funded by a PATH Foundation grant. The idea stemmed from the hope of increasing movement in classrooms and serving more nutritious food in school cafeterias. Several FCPS staff members heard about a Williamsburg schools’ program focusing on similar ideas, and after visiting that school district, FCPS launched FRESH in 2016. As with any new program, there were some kinks to work out.
When Kristen McAuliffe, the inaugural Books on the Bus (BOB) program manager, came on board as the FRESH supervisor in the fall of 2019, she brought a new perspective to the program and helped it evolve. She points out that while FRESH is a school-based program, all residents are invited to participate.
“If we want to engage students, engaging families is imperative,” Kristen says. “It’s important to talk with families and equip them with the strategies and resources that create healthy lifestyles.”
Today, the FRESH mission is to inspire and promote healthy choices in our schools and community. It does so through three pillars—nutrition (FRESH Eats), movement (FRESH Moves), and literacy (FRESH Reads)—which are essential for supporting balanced, healthy lifestyles. Through their website, social media posts, and a recently launched newsletter, FRESH continues to live up to its mission.
FRESH Eats encourages prioritizing healthy eating through nutrition education and exposure to a variety of fresh, local food. Thanks in large part to FRESH chef Natalie Ortiz (who also manages the Warrenton Farmers Market), fresh produce and chef-driven, made-from-scratch options are appearing on students’ breakfast and lunch trays. FRESH supports purchasing local meat and produce whenever possible, develops recipes and provides school nutrition staff with culinary training, and educates students and families in fun ways about nutritious foods.
For example, January’s FRESH Food of the Month was sweet potatoes. Master Gardener volunteers visited elementary schools to encourage children to try this delicious, vitamin-packed root vegetable, which can be enjoyed roasted, fried, baked, or mashed.
In fact, school tastings have been a hit with students. This interactive learning experience provides them with nutritional facts and the opportunity to taste the food for themselves—without being forced. During the first half of the 2021–22 school year, 2,555 students participated in school tastings!
FRESH Moves focuses on bringing movement activities into the community through school-sponsored events, summer programs, and other partnerships. The FRESH team has also partnered with health and physical education teachers to provide classroom teachers with training and resources that promote active learning opportunities as well as calming and refocusing strategies. To date during this school year, 99 teachers and staff have implemented new movement lessons on a monthly basis, impacting 4,070 students!
Research shows that incorporating short fitness breaks into our day helps us feel reenergized and increases concentration. In addition, calming and refocusing techniques lead to better oxygen and blood flow, reducing fatigue, stress, and anxiety, while increasing focus. To that end, FRESH highlights activities people of all ages and abilities can do using common equipment. Check out the FRESH website to find a great selection of videos featuring hip hop or boot camp exercises that can be done at home.
The website also features an activity each month. In January, FRESH spotlighted jump ropes, which help develop balance and coordination in an excellent cardio activity. Check out the variety of beginner and intermediate jump rope activities provided and do them on your own or with friends or family.
FRESH Reads brings literacy opportunities to school and community events throughout the county. Thanks to its collaboration with BOB, FRESH-sponsored book tables are regularly on display at the Warrenton Farmers Market and within schools. New and gently used books (from board books to young adult fiction and non-fiction and everything in between) are donated by the community and provided at no charge. To date, well over 28,000 books have been donated to this program, including 4,522 in the first half of the school year!
In addition, another program combines literacy and movement. FRESH and Fauquier County Public Library collaborated to establish a permanent StoryWalk®, graciously sponsored by the PATH Foundation Summer Intern Program. Located at Brumfield Elementary School, this free, outdoor activity takes families on a reading adventure along a walking path around the school. Each page of a children’s book is placed on story board signposts along the path, so to finish the story, you simply finish your walk on the path! The story changes monthly, so visitors can enjoy the experience over and over. A second StoryWalk® is slated for installation on the Warrenton Greenway in coming months!
FRESH continues to grow and is excited about the community’s response to its offerings, many of which are accessible year-round! To learn more about FRESH and to sign up for their monthly newsletter, visit fauquierfresh.org.
Read the original article in Discover Fauquier here.