The mandate provides another job for schools to do.
By VIRGINIA ROSS
FARRELL, Pa. -- School officials in Mercer County agreed that healthy kids learn better.
"And typically, they miss fewer days of school," said Albert Boland, chairman of the Community Health Partnership of Mercer County.
On Friday, representatives from several area schools and local agencies participated in the initial session of the Mercer County School Health Advisory Council. The council is a coalition recently formed to raise awareness about health and wellness in local schools.
The focus of much of the meeting, which was held at UPMC Horizon, was a new federal wellness mandate that could affect many area schools. Essentially, school districts receiving federal money to subsidize their school lunch programs must be in compliance with the mandate by the end of next year, or risk losing that funding.
The mandate requires school districts, in cooperation with students, administrators, staff, parents and the community, to set nutrition goals and guidelines and to provide healthy food choices and physical activity opportunities.
Additionally, there is also pending legislation in Pennsylvania that calls for each school district to establish a school health council.
Boland said Friday's meeting was designed to look at ways area schools could comply with the federal wellness mandate. He said it was the first of several sessions to be conducted.
"All of this isn't bad," Boland said. "But with everything else schools have to look at and comply with, it doesn't make their jobs any easier. We want to look at ways we can help the schools comply with the mandate and work together to accomplish what needs to be done.
"It can be costly in the beginning to provide healthier choices and activities. But overall, the cost of good health is far less than the cost of poor health in schools."
Boland said participation in the council is voluntary and he believes the education and resources available through the effort could provide stepping stones for schools.
He said his agency, along with Community Health Partnership, the Mercer County Health Advisory Council, the state health department and American Cancer Society and several schools, began taking steps to establish the coalition earlier this year.
"It's a start to get our schools where they need to be," he said. "This is a partnership and we're very pleased with the response we've gotten."
The council is planning to conduct its next meeting in November. To obtain more information, contact Boland at (724) 589-6824 or (724) 301-8070.