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July 19, 2019

NYC schools need wellness experts: Brooklyn pol

May 7, 2019
From left Borough President Eric Adams, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and City Councilor Rafael Espinal meditate as they participate during a mindfulness event at Vista Academy in Brooklyn on Friday, April 5, 2019. (Byron Smith/for New York Daily News)

Healthy lunches are just as important as books and pencils for students’ success in the classroom and beyond.

That’s the belief of a Brooklyn politician who’s calling on Mayor de Blasio to pony up $50 million to hire new wellness coordinators for all public schools.

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City Councilman Rafael Espinal (D-Brooklyn) wants de Blasio to hire roughly 1,800 staffers to improve school food and boost nutritional and physical education, and promote cutting-edge programming in topics such as yoga and mindfulness.

The funding for the staffers would be included in the city budget de Blasio is now creating, and they would begin work in the fall.

“If children have access to healthy food and physical education programs, they do better in school,” said Espinal. “By having a wellness coordinator on site, this means that we have a dedicated person, whose sole mission is making sure that the school has the resources needed for this programming.”

Espinal made the case for the investment in a letter to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on April 3. A spokeswoman for Johnson said budget negotiations are ongoing.

Meanwhile, city students are more likely to be afflicted by a number of health issues related to diet and exercise—and critics have long complained that school cafeterias and gymnasiums are not up to snuff.

A 2015 audit by city Comptroller Scott Stringer found 32% of the city’s public schools had no full-time, certified gym teachers, and that 28% had no indoor space for physical exercise.

Responding to pressure over the perceived nutritional quality of school food, Education Department officials created a new policy of Meatless Mondays, starting with the current school year in September.

Espinal’s call for change comes as the city takes steps to improve student wellness, with fresh attempts to increase access to sports, changes to cafeteria menus and the hiring of a director of mindfulness in education charged with expanding meditation and related practices throughout the system.

The Brooklyn councilman joined schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at the Vista Academy in East New York on Friday for an event unveiling a new Yoga and Mindfulness Teacher Preparation Program.

The teacher prep program was funded by a $111,000 discretionary grant made by Adams and aims to outfit Brooklyn educators and social workers with training to implement techniques of mindfulness and yoga in public school classrooms.

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Adams hailed the benefits of mindfulness and other forms of meditation as a means of dealing with trauma and stress.

“Our aim is to decrease incidents of negative student behavior and increase student achievement, helping to develop life-long resilient learners,” Adams said.

City Education Department spokesman Doug Cohen said a number of programs are already underway to support the wellness of public school students, including a $24 million, four-year program to improve and enhance comprehensive health education.

“This administration has made unprecedented investments to support every public school student’s health and wellness, and we’re excited to work with elected officials and community leaders to continue our progress,” Cohen said.

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