The Board of Education passed Monday night a first read of a new Student Wellness Policy, a series of regulations addressing the nutritional, physical, mental, social and emotional needs of students in the district. The policy, which overlaps with many already instated school policies, aims at educating students to make age-appropriate personal health decisions.

"It can't be said often enough that the primary responsibility for teaching children to make healthy choices resides with the family," said board member Jenny McMahon, who also sits alongside administrators, teachers and community members on the committee that drafted the policy. "The schools, through the implementation of this policy, are here to support families, children and the community at large in ways to develop a healthy lifestyle. Sound nutrition and physical development contribute to the cognitive, emotional and physical well-being of our students, and thus we want to support efforts to sustain this for our students."

The policy includes measures to ensure the availability of healthy school lunch choices, ample lunch period time durations and daily opportunities for physical activity. It includes a healthy lifestyle education program for staff and encourages staff to model good nutrition and fitness during the school day and school sponsored events. The policy charges staff members with encouraging families to support the program by providing healthy school snack suggestions, seminars, pamphlets or other means of educating parents about nutrition and physically active lifestyles.

"The families have to do these jobs," McMahon said. "We are just here to support it and integrate it in the cafeteria and in the physical education classes and things like that. This is not a new curriculum we are going to put in, it's just about integrating it into what we already have in place."

The policy also includes the creation of a formal Wellness Committee charged with an annual review of wellness policy implementation to be reported to the superintendent.

In constructing the policy and corresponding regulatory guidelines, committee members consulted district leaders, teachers, parents and community members and studied national and local school wellness policies. The committee aimed to strengthen good health practices already in place in the district and create new supports when needed, McMahon said.

"We wanted to create a document that could be looked at and changed often if needed and this is what we feel the administrative regulations do: it provides a document that can be changed and updated as needed to reflect the work being done throughout the district. These regulations will be used by the district and school administrators to articulate the policy and set guidelines for teachers, parents, PTCs and other people to follow."

At future meetings, the board will continue to discuss ways to integrate the policy into the curriculum without disrupting the balance of the school day schedule and how to compose the committee that will oversee the policy.

Superintendent David Abbey described the document as a "well-written" set of advisory guidelines.

"I was pleased that the final product does include nutrition, physical activity, but also the social emotional wellbeing of our students," he said. "I think this makes a lot of sense. I think it will be an asset."