Calif. school district hires health consultants

Educators are increasingly being asked to understand students’ needs in a holistic way.

Beyond classroom instruction, there are social and emotional components of learning that schools are weaving into curricula.

And it doesn’t stop there. Like officials across the country, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is paying more attention to the impact of nutrition on education.

Most youth in the United States don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables or whole grains and have too much added sugar in their diets, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We must ensure that nutritional services in the classroom contribute to the development and socialization of children,” said Alice Chung, the district’s director of child development services.

To that end, the district is bringing on a couple consultants to evaluate students and educate their families about obesity, diet and other lifestyle issues.

The consultants’ contracts arrive for Board of Education approval at Wednesday night’s meeting as the district prepares to announce the hiring of its new food services director, Elizabeth Powell.

One of the consultants, Brooke Horn Dekofsky, is expected to work with preschool students and families this school year, Chung said. Her contract is for $50 per hour with a maximum limit of $12,000, according to a district report.

Dekofsky is replacing longtime registered dietitian Dona Richwine, who retired last June. The federally funded Head Start program requires agencies to have a registered dietitian “to ensure that we meet the nutritional needs requirements of each child, including those with special dietary needs and children with disabilities,” Chung said.

Dekofsky will be tasked with assessing new students for nutritional deficiencies, weight issues and dental cavities, Chung said. She will also meet with and guide parents of high-risk children, participate in interdisciplinary SMMUSD meetings and lead nutrition workshops for staff and parents.

Dekofsky earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo in 2008 and received a master’s in public health at UCLA in 2010. She also interned at the Veterans Affairs medical center in West Los Angeles.

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