MONTVILLE, NJ – The Montville Township public school district has set mindfulness as a goal for the 2017-2018 school year in order to reduce student anxiety and stress.

William Mason Elementary School has already embarked on a program of healthfulness, as one parent has spearheaded a multi-pronged approach to student health at the school.

Felicia Milelli approached Principal Dave Melucci about introducing wellness programs at the school at the end of the 2015-2016 school year, she told TAPinto Montville. Her efforts helped form the William Mason Wellness Committee where parents and teachers are working together to create awareness, programs, assemblies and activities that promote mindfulness, fitness and healthy eating habits, she said.

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“We started with a healthy eating challenge, a week of bringing in a healthy snack,” she said.

This is in line with district policy #8505, which was revised in 2015 to being called the “Wellness/Nutrition” policy from simply being called the “nutrition” policy, and includes the school board’s commitment to physical activity, foods with fewer trans fats to be served, and a prohibition on foods and beverages being served that list sugar in any form as the first ingredient and all forms of candy.

William Mason’s Home and School Association (HSA) had served ice cream every Friday, but the Wellness Committee felt that serving real fruit smoothies every other Friday would be a healthier choice. The students enjoyed a smoothie taste-off in the spring of 2017 to kick off the program, Milelli said, and have continued to enjoy smoothies every other week since then.

Other wellness programs have included designating January 2017 “wellness awareness month.”

“We gave the teachers activities and resources that they could use in their classroom to generate interest, excitement, and dialogue about health and wellness,” Milelli said. They included Mindful Mondays, Wellness Wednesdays and Fitness Fridays, she said. Options included watching YouTube videos about breathing or affirmations, and discussing healthy eating and taking care of one’s body.

Last Halloween the Wellness Committee collected trick-or-treat candy for the Hearts ‘n Hands mission, and this year for the Homeless Bus charity organization in Towaco, and the week before Thanksgiving they sponsored Get Caught Eating Healthy.

“The kids who ate a healthy snack were given a paper turkey to decorate as they wished and then it was displayed on the classroom bulletin board,” Milelli said.

In March, which is National Nutrition Month, the Wellness Committee hopes to sponsor “Try It, You’ll Like It,” an interactive assembly through HealthBarnUSA. They’re also working to start a garden on the William Mason property with help from Lowes Home Improvements, and maybe start a gardening club, she said.

The Nov. 20 program at William Mason sent the kids running – to a turkey trot. School counselor Teresa Gorgia dressed as a turkey and chased the kids around the school fields – all in good fun – and the kids ran or walked laps to increase fitness and burn off some energy. The school's six grades ended-up exercising for at least 1,468 laps during the turkey trot, which easily surpassed their goal of 1,200 laps.

The Wellness Committee has gotten off to a good start, although Milelli acknowledged it faces some challenges. But she said students spend many hours in school and a healthy body leads to academic success.

“When you feel better, you’re not sick as much,” she said.

School nurse Elizabeth Wigley said, “The Wellness Committee is helping the kids become healthier, make good food choices, and [today at the turkey trot], they’re learning how to exercise and use up their energy. In the fall, we did after-school yoga classes and they loved it – more kids want to sign up. We’re trying all different things to keep them interested.”

Melucci said, “One of our school goals, as well as a district goal this year, is mindfulness, so I think the turkey trot tied in perfectly to what we’re trying to achieve as a school and district. We want to combine not only the academic portion of what we’re supposed to do each day with our children but also focus on making sure that they feel good as well. What better way to help kids feel good than to know that they’re healthy and they’re exercising – they feel good about coming to school and they’re excited to exercise. I think they’re excited to do schoolwork, too, when they feel good about themselves. I want to thank everyone for coming out and for putting out so much time and energy into wellness programs like this. This is a success – I’m really proud of everyone!”