The PATH Foundation (formerly the Fauquier Health Foundation) announced earlier this month that it was awarding a $100,000 grant to the Rappahannock County Public Schools for a program called Commit to Be Fit. The program is designed “to improve the overall climate of health and wellness in the schools, nutritionally, physically, and mentally,” said Superintendent Donna Matthews. “I don’t know that we’ve ever gotten a $100,000 grant so this is pretty exciting.”
“Our primary goal is to inspire students, staff, parents and community members to make healthier food choices as well as understand the importance of becoming physically fit,” said Shannon Grimsley, the school division’s director of academic services and the main writer of the grant application.
The grant will fund the planning and implementation of the one-year project, the next initiative in a continuum of health-related projects that began in 2014, when the school division took over the majority of funding for the Farm-to-Table program, a Headwaters Foundation program begun a decade earlier.
The PATH grant focuses on two areas. The first is to evaluate and analyze the school lunch program in order to provide tastier, healthier lunch menu options. “We were having trouble getting enough kids to participate in the lunch program,” said Matthews. “Students weren’t really excited about the healthy food choices we were required to serve, so we thought we needed to do a whole new re-education of healthy foods and food choices and where your foods come from. That led to the Farm-to-Table program.”
Commit to Be Fit will carry the theme further by involving students in helping choose the foods served in the cafeteria. Under the guidance of a licensed nutritionist — a position funded by the grant — students will taste-test foods and recipes designed to conform to program standards, but still appeal to the kids.
The second focus area is “to incorporate fun, classroom-friendly kinesthetic techniques, promoting movement and fitness,” said Grimsley. The school system will hire a wellness-integration specialist, also funded by the grant, to help coordinate and lead health and wellness sessions for students, parents, and community members, and help integrate additional health-related objectives into the division’s curriculum.
“We hope to advertise for these two positions soon and have the personnel on board by August, when teachers return,” said Matthews.
Matthews’ health initiatives began in 2014 as a way to improve the school division’s food services program and the food offerings to students. As part of this goal, the Farm-to-Table program was revitalized under the direction of Sarah Moore, the Farm-to-Table instructor and coordinator.
At about the same time, RCPS collaborated with the Mental Health Foundation of Fauquier County on a grant project to train all RCPS staff in mental health first aid. “This was a first step to overall school health for employees and students,” said Matthews. “In fact, RCPS became the first school division to train all staff on such a large scale.”
Matthews credits the efforts of her team for the successful Commit to Be Fit application. “Mrs. Grimsley composed the final grant application,” she said. “And director of food services Stacey Whitt will serve as the project administrator.” Robin Bolt, the RCPS technology director, and Moore were also on the grant application team.
School board meeting
The School Board heard several pieces of good news at its June 14 meeting
In their presentation, Mathews and Bolt told the board that preliminary SOL scores in both the elementary and high schools were up almost across the board. And the scores are high enough that the school system will be fully accredited for next year. The state requires scores of 75 percent for full accreditation
“These scores are even stronger than last year,” said Matthews. “We’ve seen a huge jump in some areas,” especially in grades 3, 4, and 5. Scores were up nearly 11 percentage points from the 2014-2015 scores in grade 3 English and math, and Grade 5 science. Grade 5 math jumped 21 percentage points from 65.33 percent to 87.04 percent, and eighth-grade algebra scores were 100 percent this year compared to 77.77 percent last year. Scores in grades 9 through 12 showed similar improvement, with English, algebra II, earth science, biology and U.S. history scoring well over 90 percent. Geometry and world history II had scores of 100 percent.”
Bolt praised the school staff, teachers and principals for the progress. “Kudos to everyone,” she said. “The focus on instruction in this district has been incredible.”
Chairman Wes Mills agreed, saying, “Full accreditation is rarer than you think in the state of Virginia.”
In their presentation to the board about the high school window replacement project, Matthews and Facilities Director Jimmy Swindler showed a series of before and after slides of the progress of the work at the conference room, metal shop, ISS, offices and auditorium stage.
Matthews said that throughout the project, air quality in the rooms where windows had been removed had been tested for asbestos. Air sample tests in both schools “are fine, no problem whatsoever,” she said.
Matthews and Swindler also presented a list of surplus items, including several vehicles and assorted office equipment and furniture. Matthews is planning a public auction for October or November.
This report was written with the help of a video recordings of the meeting. The video by Kaitlin Struckmann/Rappahannock Record is below.