Originally published May 6, 2019 in The Daily Sentinel.

By Katie Langford

School District 51 leaders are revamping their approach to student and staff wellness through better nutrition, new ideas to get active and more outreach to parents and families.

At the center of that effort is wellness coordinator Ayme Zortman, who taught physical education at Lincoln Orchard Mesa Elementary School for 13 years.

When Nutrition Services Director Dan Sharp won a Colorado Health Foundation grant to update District 51’s wellness policy in 2017, Zortman applied for the job.

“I saw it as a chance to help the greater good, to do more for physical education and help teachers get things that they need for the wellness of our kids,” she said.

While the basis of the grant was hiring someone to update the school district’s wellness policy, which was last revised in 2006, Zortman and Sharp are doing far more than that to revitalize health and wellness for District 51’s 22,000 students.

Sharp has overhauled school cafeterias to serve made-from-scratch meals and salad bars full of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains and beans.

Zortman will be one of many district staff who help select a new K-12 health and wellness curriculum — the first time District 51 will have materials for health education.

There are also projects smaller in scale but still having a big impact.

This year, 14 elementary, middle and high schools formed wellness teams, wrote school health improvement plans and applied for mini-grants to kickstart their programs.

Teachers and staff at Taylor Elementary School hosted a health and wellness night for students and families with presentations on cooking, yoga and line dancing demonstrations and games with prizes like athletic equipment and passes to the skating rink and bowling alleys.

Zortman also created a website with resources for teachers to increase activity in the classroom through mini-bursts of activity.

Those two or three-minute “brain breaks” where students move their bodies in between lessons can help with focus and retention, Zortman said.

These changes are significant for Anne Nederveld, a local physician who sits on the district’s wellness advisory committee.

Nederveld said she wants to see a cultural shift around wellness in District 51 and the community, from healthy eating and physical activity to how often children are looking at screens.

“We’re approaching this from the whole child model, so looking at kids in the context of the school district as well as the community,” she said.

By working with students on health and wellness, Nederveld said she hopes their learning will carry over to their parents and grandparents.

“I think it’s exciting to put work into prevention,” Nederveld said. “A lot of what I’ve done as a physician is intervention after people haven’t taken care of those things like exercise and nutrition. Even the thought that some of these policies could in a small way change these kids’ trajectory into adulthood is exciting.”

After the Board of Education adopts the new wellness policy this summer, Zortman said she will post updates about how the policy is being implemented on the Healthy Schools page through d51schools.org.

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