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Wellness at Spero Academy Part I: Feeding the Future

By Devin Taylor

At Spero Academy, we are concerned with the overall well-being of every student. From our sensory-smart building to our special education program, we strive to provide a safe and supportive environment for students to do their best learning. In order to do this, our collaborative team of teachers and specialists spend considerable time thinking about all aspects of the student experience. 

When we think about a student’s day at school, we think about a variety of factors: sleep, peer relations, physical and emotional comfort, and of course, nutrition. Good nutrition is a cornerstone of a great day at school. As any hard-working student will tell you, it’s hard to think when you’re hungry and tired. So when we think about school wellness, we first turn our thoughts to what we’re feeding our students.
Nutrition at Spero Academy
Spero Academy participates in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). This federally funded child nutrition program ensures that all students have access to daily nutritious meals. These meals, served at breakfast and lunch, are the only food and beverage marketed or sold to students on campus. Every meal served meets federal child nutrition standards, providing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains every day, while limiting sugar, saturated fats, and sodium. These science-based standards help ensure that our students are receiving the nutrition they need. And our year-round programming enables us to provide students with year-round nutritious meals!
Nutrition and Special Education
Food is a basic need, of course, and something we all require in order to meet the physical and mental demands of our day. Sometimes light, healthy snacks offered in the morning or afternoon help hungry students do their best work. But beyond basic nutrition, healthy snacks play an important sensory role in the individualized learning of many Spero students. 

Child eating lunch

While our wellness policy dissuades the use of food as a reward or incentive, sensory snacks are often needed and allowed in appropriate amounts and at appropriate times. The idea is not to reward or incentivise students, but to help those who may struggle with concentration due to sensory processing challenges by engaging their senses. 

Sensory Smart Snacks may be crunchy, chewy, or sucked through a straw. They might be spicy, sour, warm, or cold. When used as part of a sensory diet containing non-food options as well, these snacks can help students “wake up” or “calm down” as needed. But whether it wakes us up or calms us down, any edible sensory snack should meet USDA Smart Snack standards.1  Spero Academy provides teachers with access to Smart Snack nutrition standards to reference in deciding which snacks to provide in the classroom. Additional information about these standards can be found here:
Guide to Smart Snacks in School For School Year 2019-2020
Parents and guardians are encouraged to consider these standards as well when bringing food items to school for occasions such as class parties, birthdays, school celebrations, and fundraisers.

Personalizing School Nutrition
Food and nutrition present struggles for many families at some point. Striking that balance between nutritious and “kid-friendly” is a task set before all school nutrition programs. But in the world of special education, this task often presents unique challenges. This is especially true for students with autism and other sensory processing disorders, whose diet may be limited due to sensory sensitivity. Some students experience strong aversions to certain textures or smells, while others may crave sugar or other simple carbohydrates to the exclusion of more nutrient-dense foods. 

Being presented with an objectionable food may cause a much stronger response in these students than that experienced by a neurotypical student faced with something they don’t prefer. For some, simply having a non-preferred food item on their tray can ruin the entire meal.
This may sound like hyperbole, but to families facing sensory-related struggles with eating, and to providers of special education, student preference is a matter to be treated with both gravity and respect. Our mission is to provide individualized, compassionate learning, and that means working to meet the individual needs of each student while upholding national standards. These include federal child nutrition standards.

Our nutrition staff work to ensure that students of all abilities and needs receive and have the opportunity to eat a complete school meal. This may involve working with families and medical providers to arrange for dietary modifications, getting creative with food presentation, or arranging for that special staff person to assist students in choosing their own lunches from the menu. Anything to keep our STAR students healthy, hunger-free, and happy!

Kids eating lunch

In addition to the challenges outlined above, environmental factors present obstacles all their own. Social eating situations can be distracting or upsetting for some students. We strive to combat this by keeping lunch room decor simple and purposeful, while making expectations clear and visible. Working together, our nutrition program staff and behavior program specialist have created an eating environment that is both pleasant and supportive.

Poster in the lunchroom Creature tracks on the ground
Our Local Wellness Policy
As with all schools participating in the National School Lunch Program, Spero Academy is responsible for upholding a Local Wellness Policy (LWP). This is a list of goals and guidelines to improve and maintain the wellness of our students. You can view our current LWP here:
Spero Academy Local Wellness Policy
We look forward to updating this policy at our upcoming Triennial Review! 

All participating schools in the National School Lunch Program must undergo a triennial review before the end of this school year. This means meeting as a community to review our compliance with the current LWP and to discuss any updates. Spero Academy will hold our triennial review at 6:00p.m. on April 28th, 2020. Spero students and families, members of staff, and members of the community are invited and encouraged to participate.

You can also get involved by joining the School Wellness Committee! You can let us know by completing the Wellness Committee Interest Survey.

To learn more about our commitment to wellness through physical activity at Spero Academy, stay tuned for Part II of our School Wellness series: Minds in Motion!

Building a tent

1 In the interest of accommodation and accessibility, exceptions to this may be made in scenarios where a student is only helped by items that cannot meet these standards (i.e. chewing gum, suckers). These items are used sparingly, on a case-by-case basis, and only when other tools have proven ineffective and the professional working with the student (special education teacher, therapist, etc.) has determined that the benefit to the student, academically and emotionally, is greater than the potential impact of using these less optimal items.