The WELL Campaign, a statewide coalition to make New York State students' health and well-being a top priority, recently rallied with students, advocates and elected officials at an Advocacy Day in Albany.

Initiated by the leaders of Teachers College’s Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy, based in the College’s Program in Nutrition, the WELL Campaign is urging legislators to create a New York State model wellness policy that can be shared with schools and invest $21 million to support high-needs districts with wellness policy implementation.   

Under federal law, the majority of New York State districts must have a school wellness policy -- yet Tisch Food Center research shows that currently nearly 90 percent of the districts’ policies fail to respond to at least one federal requirement. Evidence shows that state-level wellness policy laws lead to more comprehensive, better-implemented wellness policies, yet New York is not one of the 24 states that has such a law. The WELL Campaign is calling on New York to pass a budget for fiscal year 2021 that gives school districts critical tools and resources to address what it terms a crisis in children’s health, in which nearly 1 in 5 students in the state faces a serious mental illness, 1 in 6 children in the state struggle with hunger and 1 in 3 are overweight or obese.

The WELL Campaign is calling on New York to pass a budget for fiscal year 2021 that gives school districts critical tools and resources to address what it terms a crisis in children’s health.

The Advocacy Day included a press conference, legislative meetings and an interactive school wellness station. A group of more than 100 students and advocates participated in Albany, while the WELL Campaign hosted an online Day of Action in which New Yorkers urged their legislators to support and fund the creation of a state model wellness policy.

“This advocacy day was a huge success thanks to the incredible students, parents, advocates, and legislators from across the state who came together to speak up for our children's health and well-being,” says Claire Raffel, the Tisch Food Center’s Deputy Director. “It was also wonderful to have so many Teachers College students and colleagues be part of this effort. I am proud to see our institution taking an active role in shaping policies that can have far-reaching impacts for students’ abilities to learn and thrive.”

Well Campaign demonstration in Albany

SNACKING FOR THE CAUSE The Advocacy Day included an interactive school wellness station – operated here by Amity Lui, a student in TC's Program in Nutrition – that featured an activity zone, student artwork, and healthy snacks prepared onsite. (Photo: The Tisch Food Center)

Among the elected officials who joined with the Advocacy Day event were State Senators Robert Jackson and Alessandra Biaggi, and State Assembly members Michael Benedetto and Patricia Fahy. The Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also made a surprise appearance, congratulating the students on engaging in civic action and confirming his support for policies that help New York children.

Jackson called the WELL Campaign “vital, especially in a time of federal cuts to SNAP benefits and a rising crisis of physical and mental health among our students.” He urged the state legislature to “fully fund universal school lunches that consist of nutritious food grown right here in New York” and to provide “at least one clinical licensed social worker and one psychologist in every school in the state.”  

Benedetto said he was “proud to stand with the WELL Campaign and their partners from across the state to demand better for our students.” He urged his colleagues to “support this effort to strengthen our state’s policies on student health and well-being by creating a state model wellness policy and including adequate funding in the budget. We owe to our young people to do everything we can to support them.” 

In addition to those from Teachers College, advocates joining in the rally represented 17 organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, Peer Health Exchange, the Buffalo City School District, Bronx Health Reach, and New York Road Runners.