LEWISTON – Lewiston schools are making strides toward bettering the health of their school community. They were one of the first in the state to repeal the sale of soft drinks in their schools and offer healthy options during meal times.

Lewiston is also on the cutting edge of tobacco policy, passing a strict 24/7 policy several years ago that meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and is used as a model for other districts around the state.

Now the district is taking the next step by doubling the wellness credit students are required to take at the high school in order to graduate. Starting in fall 2004, students will be required to take one semester of wellness as freshmen and another semester their junior year.

Regis Beaulieu, formerly the Physical Education Department chairman at Lewiston High School, has been named the school health coordinator through a grant from Healthy Androscoggin.

He has plans for the district to make systemic changes within the district and community. “We are addressing the current health issues of adolescents by creating a paradigm shift in the way we deliver wellness at the Lewiston School Department,” Beaulieu said.

The paradigm shift includes such changes such as increasing the wellness credit and the addition of a fitness center on site for student, staff, faculty and public use.

Lewiston School Committee Chairman Jim Handy said the effort will have an impact that goes beyond the personal health of students.

“The research consistently shows that healthy students are better learners and we can expect our students will be better off academically as a result. In addition, the long-range impact is a community that values the health of everyone,” Handy said, “This is doubly beneficial.”

There will be a full assessment completed in the fall of next year to determine the coordinated school health priorities and objectives for the district. These will center on the eight components of school health: teacher and staff wellness, school climate, physical education and health curriculum, community involvement, nutrition, physical environment and health services.

“The hiring of a school health coordinator will allow us to establish our priorities by recruiting people to serve on a leadership advisory team that will administer the needs assessment within our school district. This will give direction and understanding to our schools and build partnerships within the community. In five years it is our hope and vision that a majority of our school’s population will attain marked and measurable improvement both in their academic/school achievement and through measures of physical wellness and overall personal well being” said Superintendent Leon Levesque.

The Lewiston School Department has been awarded a contract from Healthy Androscoggin, a local public health organization, to implement coordinated school health programming and education to all students, staff and faculty.

“Healthy Androscoggin is working to create sustainable policy and environmental change throughout Androscoggin County. The situation with Lewiston affords us all the opportunity to maximize the impact on the school community with a district that has a true understanding of the importance of healthy students and is willing to put forth the effort to achieve that result,” said Tina Harnett, director of Healthy Androscoggin.

“For the first time in the history of our county this is the first generation, because of declining wellness practices, which will not have the longevity of their parents,” said Beaulieu. “We need to put every effort into changing this and its exciting to be part of a system that is willing to take the extra steps to make it happen.”

For more information on the coordinated school health programs call Beauleau at 795-4190, ext. 250. Healthy Androscoggin is a public health organization working to promote good health by encouraging substance-free lifestyles, healthy eating and increased exercise. Healthy Androscoggin is funded in part by the Fund for a Healthy Maine. For more information about this and other health related events/resources, call 795-5990.

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