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St. Paul Elementary's wellness program lauded

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St. Paul Elementary School is one of three schools in the state to receive an award for their efforts in recent years to improve the health and wellness of staff and students

St. Paul Elementary School is one of three schools in the state to receive an award for their efforts in recent years to improve the health and wellness of staff and students.

The Oregon School Wellness Award was presented, along with a banner, to the school at an assembly April 21 by representatives from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and Oregon Dairy Council. The one-time state award also provides $2,500 to further nutrition goals at the school.LINDSAY KEEFER / WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - Holding up the banner presented at Friday's assembly are (from left) Superintendent/St. Paul Elementary Principal Joe Wehrli, wellness committee volunteer Kim Faber, wellness committee chairwoman Toni Veeman, P.E. and health teacher Justin Whitlock, teacher Carmen Boyd, head cook Luisa Milera, ODE Director of Child Nutrition Programs Joyce Dougherty, teacher Kristi Stoltenberg and Oregon Dairy Council Director of School Programs Crista Hawkins.

St. Paul Elementary School was also named one of the country's healthiest schools by Alliance of a Healthy Generation in 2014, earning a bronze level award.

Over the past several years, the school has built a health and wellness-centered culture that has taken minimum state and federal requirements and built on them. From Fitness Fridays, when you can see staff and students walking or jogging around the track before school starts, to monthly made-from-scratch taste testing, the school, spurred on by a largely volunteer-driven wellness committee, is constantly looking for ways to inspire and engage students into making healthy choices.

"Coming from the education side, I know how hard it is, not only to make connections at a cognitive level, but also at a physical level," said Joyce Dougherty, ODE Child Nutrition Program director, who presented the award. "It takes a community to make this happen, and we appreciate the work being done here."

The community effort is largely from wellness committee chairwoman Toni Veeman and fellow committee volunteer Kim Faber, who have played important roles, whether it's gathering ideas from outside sources or applying for grants to further wellness goals, like all-day P.E. classes.

"We're advocates so we have someone to keep things moving," Veeman said. "But it's the teachers who are here every day. They're the ones who make it possible to move forward."

While the students are the focus, the buy-in has to come from the top down, Veeman pointed out.

"It's a big deal that the staff and administration not only support this, but also are role models for it," she said. "It's a big deal. We would like to spread that to the high school as well."

St. Paul Middle/High School also applied for the wellness award, and is gradually taking on that same wellness culture that was first embraced at the elementary school.

Jennifer Young, ODE wellness coordinator, said that this accomplishment is achievable for schools of any size and age group, as proved through this year's other two winners, Milwaukie High School and Adams Elementary School in Corvallis.

"Giving this award can serve to show other schools a positive model," she said.

Although Veeman, a health teacher at Portland Community College with a master's degree in public health and nutrition, got involved when her now-sophomore daughter attended the elementary school, she doesn't envision passing the baton to anyone else anytime soon.

"This is my community, this is my passion," she said.

Veeman said the award money will likely go toward professional development for wellness practices, producing more food from scratch, promoting farm to school partnerships and providing grab-and-go snack stations throughout the district to promote healthy snacking.

"Toni has driven this whole thing and it wouldn't have happened without her," St. Paul Superintendent Joe Wehrli said. "But the commitment from staff and the community makes this type of a project so successful for the students of St. Paul."