Fuel Up to Play 60 Changing Lives at Our School

Jessie Pion and Jeanine Rotolo Brentwood, New York School Teachers

Teachers and dairy farmers have a lot in common. Both are selfless professions and it’s in our collective DNA to give back to others. Children’s health and wellness is a priority we both share.

Teachers Jeanine Rotolo, left, and Jessie Pion are proud of the accomplishments their students are making at their Brentwood, New York, school thanks to Fuel Up to Play 60.

That’s why as teachers, we are passionate about the Fuel Up to Play 60 program dairy farmers created 10 years ago with the NFL. Collectively, teachers and farmers are changing lives at schools because of Fuel Up to Play 60 and that is not an overstatement.

We cannot adequately share our appreciation for what dairy farmers, through their local and national checkoff organizations, have done for schools around the U.S. Farmers have contributed more than $48 million in grants these last 10 years and it impacts schools like ours and, more importantly, the kids, in so many ways that you may not hear about.

 

 

Here is one story of a young man from our school who made incredible gains. He credits Fuel Up to Play 60 for setting him up for success in life.

He isn’t the only one. We have so many other stories of how kids are improving their health and wellness, building confidence and developing leadership skills. What a great gift dairy farmers and the NFL have provided!

A program for all

The beautiful thing about Fuel Up to Play 60 is it is an open door for everyone. You don’t “try out” for it – you commit to joining and you discover ways it can change your life. It’s also been a wonderful outlet for our special needs students.

When our principal approached us nine years ago about Fuel Up to Play 60, we had no idea what it was about. We saw it was done in partnership with the NFL so that brought an immediate appeal. (One of us is a Jets fan while the other pulls for the Giants – neither one judges the other!)

Football loyalties aside, we share a close friendship and we’re known as “J Squared” around campus. We decided to make a collective commitment as co-advisers of the program.

We started with a small group of kids and formed a walking club. It was our way of testing the waters and we saw there was interest in doing more. So, we added hip-hop aerobics and a Zumba class and we opened it up to families. Our kids were moving alongside their parents, grandparents and siblings. This was unprecedented at our school!

We began offering cooking demonstrations using healthy ingredients such as dairy and we provided recipes in Spanish and English. We’ve held a milk mustache photo day and cheese stick tastings. We promote the “rethink your drink” concept that shows dairy’s superior nutritional benefits and we have grown our access to smoothies. In fact, our school received funding for a stationary bike that doubles as a blender when you pedal it. Kids love to hop on the bike and produce smoothies. We have even taken the bike to PTA meetings and our school’s literacy events!

We’ve added grab-and-go breakfast and “breakfast in the classroom” programs. Everyone at our school now gets a free breakfast because of Fuel Up to Play 60 grant money. And you know what? More kids arrive early knowing there is a tasty and nutritious breakfast that includes dairy waiting for them!

So much momentum has grown, and we have something special happening. It’s a movement of sorts and our passion only increases because we see the difference it is making. It’s our labor of love, though it never feels like work! We’re driven by the frequent feedback we get from parents who tell us how Fuel Up to Play 60 is making their kids healthier and more confident. It fills your heart.

Connection to the farm

Teacher Jeanine Rotolo said visiting dairy farms has been as educational for her as it is for her students.

It’s also provided an avenue for us to get to know the dairy farmers and understand how hard they work and care for their animals. We sometimes hear claims of animal mistreatment at farms, but because of Fuel Up to Play 60 we see the care they provide their animals every day. We even participated in a virtual dairy farm tour and the kids were so excited to interact with farmers over Twitter and Instagram. You should never take for granted that a small gesture such as this can make a big difference to a student.

We now can speak confidently about the work that happens on dairies because we have seen it and we have gotten to know the farmers.

We each have been in the classroom for 20-plus years and teaching is our passion. But, Fuel Up to Play 60 has rejuvenated us. We have seen a lot of programs come and go in our time but this one has staying power and we’ll continue to make it part of our daily work.

To the dairy farmers who make this all happen, all we can say is we feel an immense appreciation to you. We will continue to be good stewards of the funding you provide, and we will put it to the best use we can for our collective cause – the health and wellness of kids.

Jessie Pion and Jeanine Rotolo are seventh-grade teachers and Fuel Up to Play 60 program advisers at Brentwood East Middle School in New York. Jessie teaches health and Jeanine leads a special education class. Both attended the recent Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassador Summit in Cleveland. More than 260 students and 120 teachers were in attendance to explore further ways of enhancing Fuel Up to Play 60.

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