Success Stories

Encouraging Physical Education & Healthy Cooking

School Wellness
New York

DREAM Charter School | New York, New York

Setting the Stage: Establishing the Local School Wellness Policy

To guide the implementation of its wellness policy, staff at DREAM used CDC’s School Health Index, a self-assessment and planning tool, to evaluate the school’s health policies and practices. A DREAM Charter Wellness Council was formed that included the vice principal, the director of family engagement, the lead health and wellness specialist, the school nurse, the school food coordinator, and parents. The council also included representatives from community organizations, such as the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Adelphi University, New York Academy of Medicine, New York Restoration Project (Gardening), and Bubble EATS, a farm-to-table nutrition education program.

The council developed an action plan and timeline to address the areas for improvement identified by the School Health Index assessment and to build on the school’s strengths. The revised wellness policy called for including wellness activities in all school initiatives. It was reviewed and approved by the New York City School Board.

Taking Action: Activities to Meet Local School Wellness Policy Goals

Nutrition Education

In 2011, the DREAM Charter Wellness Council worked with the DREAM Family Action Council (composed of parents and community partners) and the school principal to pass a school nutrition policy that meets federal school meal requirements; prohibits parents from bringing fast food to students during the school day; and allows only plain, unflavored, nonfat (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk, water, or 100% fruit juice in breakfast and lunch meals.

The school used the Bubble EATS curriculum in its health education classes to introduce the new nutrition standards and educate students about the health benefits of these changes. Students learned about food choices and the effects these choices have on their health. They also participated in field trips to the local farmers’ market, where they sampled fresh produce and learned how fruits and vegetables are farmed.

The curriculum covered how food is grown, where it comes from, and what it looks like in its original form. It was taught initially by Bubble EATS representatives and local chefs, nutritionists, farmers, and gardeners. To make these efforts more sustainable, teachers at the school also learned how to teach the curriculum.

DREAM partnered with Cornell University Cooperative Extension to provide families access to free nutrition classes at the school. Cornell’s community nutrition educator taught the classes, took families on educational trips to the farmers’ market, and provided coupons from the state health department that could be used to buy produce.

Families received a health and wellness newsletter throughout the year that reported on student health and wellness at DREAM and wellness opportunities in the community. The newsletter also highlighted examples of local families participating in wellness activities outside the school.

Physical Activity and Physical Education

Weekly PE classes for all students, daily activity breaks, and afterschool physical activities helped DREAM students meet the goal of getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity every week. School officials reported that 80% of the students participated in the afterschool activities throughout the year, and all students participated in PE and daily activity breaks. DREAM also partnered with community organizations to make sure students had safe places to play and opportunities to be physically active outside of school. For example, the New York City Department of Education helped the school transport students to a variety of activities in the community. Students in first grade could play rugby through Play Rugby USA, which offers a flexible curriculum that can be taught inside or outside. Second graders could get tennis lessons from the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program, and third graders could get weekly tennis classes from SPORTIME NY.

In addition, all students attended REAL Kids, part of the Harlem Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities afterschool program, where they received 30–60 minutes of additional physical activity. DREAM also provided two field trips for students each year—ice skating in Central Park and strawberry picking in Newburgh, New York.


Before DREAM revised its wellness policy, students were not able to participate in PE classes during bad weather. They had to stay in their classrooms or sit in the auditorium. On these days, teachers reported that students argued with each other more often and caused behavioral problems that took away from instructional time.

To overcome these problems, the school transformed its auditorium into a space that could be used for track, bowling, hula hooping, and jumping rope. The school also hired a physical education and wellness specialist to help teach PE classes and to show teachers how to add more activity breaks to their classrooms. Teachers reported that these changes resulted in fewer student arguments and more class time focused on learning.

As a result of the school’s outreach efforts to families, parents reported that they were cooking healthier meals and visiting farmers’ markets to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Students also reported that they preferred healthy meals and were learning healthier habits.

Sourced from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Putting Local School Wellness Policies into Action. Atlanta, GA: US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2014. Available at