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A Note From Executive Director, Nancy Easton

I have re-worked this entry in my head many times. My inclination was to respond to the election and its implications on our work, and thank Former First Lady Michelle Obama for her leadership in our space. I have some pretty fierce and passionate opinions on the subject, but others have done a much better job articulating these points. I was particularly attracted to commentary by two advocates, Bettina Siegel, and Chef Ann, who outline the progress achieved over the past eight years, and our former First Lady’s intelligence and grace while navigating the seas of the political fray. 
Click here to read the rest of Nancy's note.

WORDS FROM WENDY SISKIN, COACH FOR KIDS DIRECTOR

Inspiring Kids to Move In Frigid Weather

                
 
WITS Coach Paul at P.S. 108 in Brooklyn has completely transformed recess, Principal Constance Hahn told me last week. “More kids are active than ever before and disciplinary issues have diminished at recess and in the classrooms!”

This is a big accomplishment to hear from a Principal in the dead of winter, when frigid days and snow often keep kids indoors, in small spaces, with limited room for play. WITS Coaches are always resourceful, but this time of year requires extra creativity to encourage kids to release positive energy.

Coach Paul at P.S. 108 leads WITS FIT BITS - our classroom curriculum of short physical activity breaks - and grade-specific fitness challenges to get his school moving in the cafeteria. He’s discovered that even leading a simple game of tag in a crowded place can be effective, if kids lunge walk, instead of run.

WITS Coaches have also become known throughout the city for their dance routines. Some Coaches use Just Dance videos - kids and school staff go crazy for the songs, and somewhat challenging choreography. For younger kids, we show Lazy Town or GoNoodle, which feature inspirational characters. For the older kids, we have Steve Weatherford's Fitness Challenge - a tough workout, which always inspires healthy competition. The key in all is to make fitness FUN and not something to dread, even if we’re working with a tiny space.  

Our Coaches are amazing at encouraging kids to lead their own dance routines - sometimes in front of their auditorium chairs. When the Coach succeeds at building strong relationships with the kids, the students gain confidence and want to be like the Coach. Imitation is also the sincerest form of learning! One student recently said: "I used to be shy and afraid to play with other kids at recess. Now I like to lead my classmates in fun activities. My favorite game to lead is flinch ball."

“Indoor recess is always a challenge, but when you see smiling high fives between students and even school staff in between activities, you know you’ve succeeded!,” recently said WITS Coach Ty of PS 84 Manhattan.

VERY IMPORTANT PARTNERS 

                                                               
          

This fall we faced a big challenge: our hands-on, seasonal cooking lessons (WITS Labs) were scheduled in WITS' 87 NYC schools, but we had no ingredients! 
 
In just a few days, Baldor Specialty Foods and Hain Celestial came to the rescue.  Together with our friends at Red Jacket Orchards and The New York Apple Association, we had hundreds pounds and bunches of apples, tomatoes and kale, oh my!  It was a true team effort to coordinate the delivery of all of the produce to each school in a timely way.
 
Thanks to our partners, we provided WITS Labs to over 40,000 students this fall and winter – a chance to see, touch, taste, and smell fresh ingredients featured on their lunch menus. Led by a WITS Chef and volunteers, WITS Labs teach basic cooking skills, like chopping, mixing, and measuring, and give students the chance to sample and learn new recipes and about new foods. Labs have proven to increase consumption of items featured on the alternative menu. 

Both Baldor and Hain have since come onboard as our premier WITS Lab sponsors.  We are gearing up for Spring Labs in March and the process is now a well-oiled machine, thanks to many hands and many hearts on deck.

Want to try some of our recipes? They can all be found on our website!

WITS Warrior: Tess Casey • Hollywood & TV Florist


                

For the past six years, Tess Casey, owner of Aisling Flowers – a floral company famous for work in the movie and TV industry - has graciously provided the floral arrangements for WITS events. Tess, known for her work on movies like Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada, is a true WITS Warrior. She has a deep commitment to children’s wellness, organic food and gardening, and environmental awareness – inspired by her childhood in Cork City, Ireland. We sat down with Tess to hear more about her path from Irish immigrant to famous floral designer.
 
Tess began her career in a family shop in Cork City, run by her mother, where she worked part-time while enrolled full-time in Art College. After graduation, she traveled to London to train professionally in floristry.
 
Inspired by the spirit of her grandmother and mother, she packed up her belongings, and went on a six-month adventure to New York. She knew absolutely no one, but landed a job as a florist on Madison Avenue at the Carlyle Hotel, and eventually entered the movie industry, where she has been since.
 
Every summer as a child, Tess grew vegetables on her family's farm in Ireland, gaining invaluable lessons about the importance of hard work, nurturing the community and, of course, healthy meals with lots of vegetables. “Providing a healthy meal is like priming a canvas for a beautiful painting,” she said. “Starting young is the way to imprint lifelong habits, and that is why I am a long-time WITS partner.” Thank you Tess, for everything you do to help us inspire wellness for the next generation.
 

We're excited to announce that Between The Bread, a Manhattan eatery, has joined as a Chef Partner to PS 87. Chef Jon Eisen has teamed up with WITS Chef Cynthia this winter to lead smoothie and salad tastings in the cafeteria. Also on tap for the students is a field trip to one of the Between The Bread eateries, where they'll tour the kitchen, sample the meals, and see how their chefs work their daily magic. “We see our customers making smart food choices every day at our eateries,” says Eisen. “And we realize it’s important to instill these healthy habits at a young age." We couldn't agree more!

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