Joan Cook, a second grade teacher at Vernon School is truly committed to the Vernon community and to supporting student and staff wellness. “I am now in my 31st year here and have served as a VEHI PATH Adventure Coordinator and our building’s wellness leader for many of these years,” she said. Eager to show us how she is promoting a culture of wellness in the school, she led us out the back door to the school’s garden. It was a crisp but sunny November morning and there were some veggies yet to be harvested. “The thing I am most proud of is my partnership with Tom Walsh, our food service director,” Cook said. “We constructed a garden with raised beds and now harvest all kinds of veggies, including kale, Brussel sprouts, carrots, white radishes and oh, so much more.”
Cook mapped out everything she wanted to plant in the garden, and with assistance from the second and fourth graders, all the seeds found a secure home. “During the summer months, Tom and I weed the garden,” she said. Because of Walsh’s investment in the garden, he now uses the vegetables in all the meals he prepares and serves in the school cafeteria. “He makes kale chips, uses the squash in multiple recipes and highlights a different vegetable each month throughout the school year,” said Cook. “It’s making an incredible difference in what the students and staff are eating each day.” All of the garden’s surplus is distributed to a local drop-in center.
When Cook offers wellness leader events for Vernon staff members, she does her best to involve community members. Over the years, using some VEHI funding, she has purchased fitness equipment staff can use during their free time or after school. Cook is very invested in moving throughout the day. “Years ago, I figured out the best way to be able to move and also have meetings with special educators or other staff was to propose having them while we walked,” she said. Her colleagues readily agreed to do so. Along with the walking meetings, during lunch breaks, Cook and a few other employees duck out for a quick jog a few days a week. Outside of her work as a teacher, Cook relishes winter recreation, spending time downhill and Nordic skiing during the snowiest months. When the roads are clear, she can be found riding on her motorcycle through the Vermont and Massachusetts landscapes.