Wellness club is “Cooke-ing” Up Healthy Options

The students and staff at the George L. Cooke Elementary School are continuing to discover new ways to incorporate health into their daily lives, thanks to the hard work of the Cooke Wellness Club.

A healthier generation of Sullivan County residents 

After Sullivan County was ranked second to last in the state for its residents’ health, a group of concerned citizens formed Sullivan 180, an organization determined to improve the county’s health and wellness and turn these rankings around. The organization’s “Healthier Generation” initiative provides funding to local school districts to implement new wellness programing in their buildings.

For the past several years, each Monticello Central School District building has received a Healthier Generation grant. Each building has a Healthier Generation Committee, and together with Sullivan 180 and other community partners, they work together to identify their students’ needs, and develop strategies to meet those needs.

two women are smiling in a hallway and posing with a student
Cooke Wellness Club co-facilitators Elisa Mendels and Joan Mingo work with the Healthier Generation Committee to implement wellness initiatives at the Cooke school.

At the Cooke school, co-facilitators Elisa Mendels and Joan Mingo have noticed how the lack of physical activity has impacted students, and over the years, have sought ways to encourage the students to move more. They’ve made changes to the playground – adding smaller basketball hoops, purchasing more play equipment and storage for that equipment. They’ve also painted the blacktop encourage physical activity and even emotional wellness. Besides the traditional hopscotch and foursquare, there is a “dispute resolution circle.” When students are having a disagreement, the aides will often direct them to head over to the circle, which suggests a number of ways students can choose to settle the issue, including “walking away,” “ignoring it,” and “apologizing.”

a circle is spray painted onto the blacktop. It lists different stratgies to settle disputes: apologize, walk away, talk it out, ignore it.
The dispute resolution circle gives students suggestions they can use to settle disagreements.

A new kind of birthday party

a student is pedaling on a bike that has a blender attached to it
The blender bike is powered by the rider pedaling.

Over the past few months, Ms. Mendels and Ms. Mingo have been visiting classrooms to introduce blender bikes” and “celebration carts” to Cooke students. Pedaling on this stationary bike (supplied by Cornell Cooperative Extension) powers a blender attached to the rear which can ultimately create yummy smoothies – if, of course, the rider is pedaling fast enough. Students were excited to try out the bike, try the smoothies and brainstormed what fruits would be in the ideal smoothie (pineapple was a popular choice!). Celebration carts include activities such as limbo, giant Jenga blocks, and parachutes.

a group of students are standing around a bike with cups in their hands.

Eventually, the club plans to give students the option to request the blender bike and celebration cart in lieu of a traditional cupcake party.
“It’s all about balance,” Ms. Mingo said. “This is a great age to expose them to healthy options and empower them to make healthier choices. Especially with the wellness initiatives throughout the district, we hope that we’re building a healthy foundation that will carry through their entire educational career at the MCSD.”

Adult wellness opportunities

a group of adults are participating in an exercise class.
A group of Monticello staff members participate in an exercise class. All staff members are invited to attend these free weekly classes.

This year, while continuing to build upon the school’s established wellness strategies, the club chose to focus on adult wellness, believing that empowering the staff to prioritize their health would lead to a trickle-down effect on the students. During the first staff conference day in November, the club hosted a bevy of activities, including art, kickball, cooking classes, and even massage therapists. By January, the club had organized a weekly schedule of free wellness classes and extended the invitation to all staff in the district, from central office administrators, to bus drivers and custodial. Everyone in the district has the opportunity to participate in weekly yoga, mindfulness or Zumba classes either just before, or just after the close of the school day.

Looking ahead

What’s next for the Cooke Wellness Club? They are hoping to incorporate more movement into the classroom. Research shows that integrating physical activity, particularly crossing midline (which means reaching from one side of the body to perform tasks on the other side) into a lesson not only helps develop motor skills, but also helps students improve information retention.

“The better you know your body, the better you’re going to perform academically and physically,” Ms. Mingo said.

None of this would be possible without the support of our community partners.

“Sullivan 180 has been amazing,” Ms. Mendels said. “Cortney Larson (Healthier Generation Coordinator) and Meaghan Mullally-Gorr (Director of Health and Wellness) have been our go-to people for just about everything. Cornell Cooperative Extension have been fantastic, too. At the end of the day, our shared goal is to get our kids out and moving.”