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Building a Healthier Generation in Monticello

By Patricio Robayo
Posted 10/3/23

In a post-pandemic world, the well-being of students is a top priority for schools. Still, at George L. Cooke Elementary School, Principal Virginia Gallet took it a step further. Recognizing that the …

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Building a Healthier Generation in Monticello


In a post-pandemic world, the well-being of students is a top priority for schools. Still, at George L. Cooke Elementary School, Principal Virginia Gallet took it a step further. Recognizing that the physical and mental well-being of the staff plays a crucial role in supporting students, the school embarked on a journey to prioritize the wellness of both educators and children.

“Coming out of COVID, we needed to recognize that if we were going to need to support our students…Because we thought that if we could support the staff, then that would then trickle down and support the students,” Gallet explained. The school conducted a survey to understand the needs of its staff, which then shaped the decisions and initiatives put in place for the year.

To kickstart their wellness journey, the school organized a conference day on November 1, offering six different sessions. Staff could choose three sessions that appealed to them, ranging from walking groups, art classes, nutrition classes, Last Laugh Factory self-care sessions, yoga, and even kickball. The goal was to provide staff with opportunities for self-care and team-building.

“It was wonderful,” said Gallet. 

The school also secured a $5,000 grant to support wellness activities from Sullivan 180, including bringing in massage therapists for eight hours over two days. Staff could sign up for 10-minute sessions, partly subsidized by the grant, to emphasize the importance of self-care.

George L. Cooke Elementary School’s commitment to wellness extends beyond its staff, and using the $5,000 grant for the school to actively engage with the community to promote a culture of well-being. 

In December, the Monticello Teachers Associations organized a Tinsel Trot event, encouraging staff members and their families to participate. Registered staff members were reimbursed their entrance fees, motivating them to engage in outdoor activities and exercise.

In January, wellness classes, including yoga, Zumba, and meditation, were introduced and held three times a week. The mindfulness techniques learned in these classes also found their way into the curriculum, benefiting students.

Gallet said the new social-emotional wellness teacher has been attending these classes and will incorporate yoga and mindfulness into the lessons, providing students with valuable strategies. 

The school’s efforts to prioritize well-being caught the attention of other schools in the district. During a principals’ meeting, a conversation led to organizing a district-wide wellness day in May. The event included a Spirit Week, with wellness Wednesday at the center. It featured activities, games, and exercise, culminating in a district-wide event where students and staff wore specially designed Monticello Panther shirts.

In addressing some families’ challenges, George L. Cooke Elementary School has also taken steps to support parents. The school recognized that healthy habits should start early, and kindergarten orientation sessions now include discussions with parents about establishing healthy routines.

Additionally, the school has modified its approach to birthday celebrations. Instead of sugary cupcakes, they now use a birthday card system, encouraging healthier classroom activities.

“We make a special announcement, the student goes down to our social emotional wellness teacher classroom, and they get a birthday sticker and a birthday pencil.

The wellness teacher takes a picture of them with a Polaroid and puts it on the school’s birthday wall.

“Not everything has to be tied to food; we’re trying to embrace that as staff,” said Gallet. 

Gallet said the school is trying to change the culture and make staff and students understand that taking care of oneself is the foundation for success.

George L. Cooke Elementary School’s innovative approach to staff and student well-being inspires schools looking to create a supportive, nurturing, and health-conscious environment for their communities. 

Sullivan 180 

Here are the initiatives Sullivan 180 has been able to provide.

Kenneth L. Rutherford Elementary School (KLR)

KLR, with a population of 510 students, has embarked on a project for the 2022-23 school year titled “Mindset Matters.” This initiative involves the distribution of classroom kits equipped with fidget toys, breathing balls, self-care activity cards, and Yoga4Classroom cards. Social Emotional Wellness posters are also prominently displayed, and water bottles are provided to students.

“The outcomes of this project have been impressive, with an increase in mindfulness, water consumption, and stress reduction strategies. The school has also introduced fruit and vegetable carts in hallways and incorporated healthy food choices into morning announcements. KLR is actively working towards becoming a CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) curriculum school and has labeled healthy foods as “GO foods” in the cafeteria,” said Sullivan 180.

Robert J. Kaiser Middle School (RJK)

RJK, serving a population of 672 students, established the Spartan Club in the 2022-23 school year. This club comprises over 50 students working on various aspects of health, including nutrition, fitness, goal setting, mental health, and coping skills. These efforts align with the district’s wellness policy.

“The outcomes at RJK have been marked by an increase in physical activity, physical fitness, time spent outdoors, improved mental health, enhanced nutrition knowledge, coping and communication skills, and improved self-image and self-esteem. To support these initiatives, RJK introduced a fitness trail, Smoothie Fridays, and Meditation Mondays,” said Sullivan 180. 

St. John Street Community School (SJS)

St. John Street Community School, which is covered under Monticello High School, responded to student requests by creating a fitness room for the 2022-23 school year. This effort resulted in increased physical fitness, physical activity, time spent outdoors, improved mental health, and enhanced nutritional knowledge.

SJS’s health and wellness initiatives included participation in Earth Day, nutrition classes, Bailey Commons clean-up, and visits to Toad Hollow Farm. The school also focused on increasing water consumption and engaged students in selecting fitness equipment.

Collaboration with organizations like Sullivan 180, Cornell Cooperative Extension, ENGN, and Sullivan Allies Leading Together has enhanced SJS’s wellness initiatives.

Monticello High School

Monticello High School, with a population of 885 students, did not have a specific grant project for the 2022-23 school year. However, the school actively participated in the Spartan Club and the Spartan Race at Bethel Woods.

George Cooke Elementary School

George Cooke Elementary School, serving a population of 482 students, implemented a district-wide staff wellness program based on staff surveys. This initiative increased staff physical activity, time spent outdoors, physical fitness, mental health, and stress reduction. It also improved staff morale and increased student time spent outdoors.

The school introduced initiatives like the Blender Bike and Celebration Cart, and staff members attended the Peace Love & Lights event. A large Healthier Generation Committee has been instrumental in driving these initiatives, and collaborations with Sullivan 180, SNAP-Ed, and Cornell Cooperative Extension have strengthened the school’s commitment to wellness.

Emma C. Chase Elementary School

Emma C. Chase Elementary School, with a population of 229 students, embarked on various projects in the 2022-23 school year, including Bucket Filler T-shirts, Inspirational wall clings, and a journaling initiative. These initiatives resulted in increased physical fitness, mindfulness, stress reduction, water consumption, staff wellness, and time spent outdoors.

The school introduced Fruit and Vegetable carts in hallways, organized walks to the town library, held staff pickleball sessions, and participated in the Great Kindness Challenge. Additionally, the school hosted an Academic Expo Night, installed a new playground, and organized an Adult Prom.

Community collaboration with organizations like Sullivan 180, SNAP-Ed, and Cornell Cooperative Extension has been vital in supporting Emma C. Chase Elementary School’s health and wellness initiatives.

“The Monticello Central School District’s commitment to health and wellness is evident across its schools, with each institution implementing innovative programs to promote physical and mental well-being. Through collaboration with the community and various organizations, the district is making significant strides in creating a healthier and more balanced environment for its students and staff,” said Sullivan 180. 

Please see the full Monticello Central School District School Scene Special Section for more on this year's updates in the Tuesday, October 3 edition.


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