LBI School District Awarded Grants to Fund Wellness Projects

By Juliet Kaszas-Hoch | Jan 15, 2020

Long Beach Island, NJ — Each year the Long Beach Island Consolidated School District, comprised of the LBI Grade School and the Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary School, applies to AtlantiCare’s Healthy Schools, Healthy Children grant program. Recently, AtlantiCare has embraced “a whole child model, and in doing so, expanded funding categories beyond schoolyard gardens,” said Bianca Aniski, E.J. School nurse, who has helped oversee past grants for garden-related projects.

In 2019, as part of the grant qualifying process, the district was required to form a Wellness Committee composed of multiple stakeholders – including teachers, parents, administration and the Student Health Offices – which was tasked with filling out a wellness survey and applying for the funding. At the end of the year, the district learned it had been awarded multiple grants, totaling $4,500.

The LBI School, in Ship Bottom, will receive $1,500 to fund CPR training for staff. “Denise Lake, school nurse at the LBI School, will be coordinating this part of grant funding,” Aniski explained. “The LBI School will also be receiving $1,500 for garden-based learning initiatives for the edible and hydroponic gardens.”

Meanwhile, the E.J. School, in Surf City, will utilize $1,500 for “wellness innovation” – within the grant’s resiliency category – to create a sensory path and to implement a social-emotional learning curriculum.

According to Wendy Warner, the district’s occupational therapist, “A sensory path is a colorful, creative and playful way for all kids to build connections in the brain to develop motor skills like balance, hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness. These brain-based connections are also responsible to enable kids to complete complex, multi-step tasks. Sensory paths may also help students alleviate stressors and cope with emotions.”

Warner, physical education and health instructor James LaMarco and all classroom teachers will offer input for the design, creation and installation of the sensory path, which will be used by all students for “brain breaks,” indoor recess during inclement weather and extensions of OT/PT services.

“The addition of an indoor sensory path will allow our student population to clear weather hurdles like snow, sleet, ice and the ubiquitous Island flooding that often halts outdoor activities, outdoor PE classes and outdoor recess,” LaMarco commented. “Our students will have an additional outlet to stay active through the winter months, which is important to wellness and health.”

Teacher Sarah Esarey concurred, noting, “As educators it is important to help keep our students active and engaged. What better way to do this than to implement physical, sensory activities throughout the school day? When the brain has breaks throughout the course of the day, it can focus longer when it really needs to. Simple sensory activities allow the brain to rest for a few minutes before pumping it full of new material.

“Sensory paths allow the children to use their senses while following directions along a pathway. Some activities are purely physical (such as a crab walk), while others include hopping along only on certain colors. Students will need to use both cognitive and physical activities while on the sensory path with cross curricular connections being ideal!”

Warner, LaMarco and Esarey were part of the Wellness Committee along with social worker Sarah Franka and E.J. Principal Frank Birney. Franka will take the lead on a program called “WorryWoos,” which she described as “a social-emotional curriculum designed to educate students (to have) the ability to recognize basic and complex emotions, as well as self-affirmation and increased positive attitude.

“It is an evidence-based program that has demonstrated significant results in a child’s ability to build empathy, improve emotional intelligence and, most importantly, develop a healthy social environment for the students,” Franka continued. “The goal of each ‘WorryWoo’ lesson is to encourage the children to make the best of their situations by presenting characters who handle a difficult problem in a mindful and proactive manner. Ethel Jacobsen School is committed to encompassing all the developmental areas that make up a child to create a school environment filled with resilient, confident and happy students.”

As LaMarco pointed out, “Both Wellness Innovation grants will aid our efforts to further embrace the concept that ‘healthy students make better learners.’”

“In general, schools are responsible for educating the whole child, which includes academic and behavioral needs,” Birney remarked. “As a school we also recognize the importance of the social-emotional well-being of a child in order to promote positive academic and behavioral outcomes. A major component of social-emotional well-being is the ability to cope and function well despite adversity and learning to become resilient.

“Currently, we work to promote resiliency through positive connections between students and staff and between home and school. The addition of a sensory path and implementation of an award-winning social-emotional learning curriculum will bolster our efforts.”

“This is a great way to kick off the new year and a new decade,” said Aniski, “and we are very grateful to the AtlantiCare Healthy Schools, Healthy Children grant program for finding all applications worthy of funding.”

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

juliet@thesandpaper.net

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