Apples4Ed: Meet Rensselaer City School District
Bob Stranahan is a health teacher at Rensselaer Junior Senior High school (RJSHS) in Rensselaer City School District. Rensselaer, N.Y. has fewer than 10,000 residents, and is located just across the Hudson River and a few miles away from Albany, N.Y.
According to Stranahan, about 75 percent of the students who attend RJSHS receive free or reduced lunch prices. The health teacher also describes the economic challenges families are facing throughout the Rensselaer community, including the ability to afford fresh produce on a regular basis. Currently, the district also has funding from another grant, which will expire in one year, where all the students receive free breakfast and lunch at school. As a result of both that grant and the Apples4Ed grant, Stranahan is proud to be able to bring in some fresh fruit for the students. “As the experts say, it’s good to have a nutritious breakfast and lunch to carry you through the day,” he explains.
RJSHS is a small school serving a total of 273 students in 7th through 12th grade. Stranahan has been teaching for the Rensselaer School District since 1989, and 2020 will mark his 30th year in teaching. Early on in his time with the district, Stranahan was a substitute teacher. Then, as he became a familiar part of the school community, he became the ideal candidate for a full-time teaching position that opened up.
In his tenure at RJSHS, Stranahan has shown a genuine commitment to his students and is eager to help them grow into healthy, well-rounded adults. Along with teaching four sections of health and one section of physical education, he coaches varsity tennis, varsity bowling, and varsity baseball. He is also heavily involved in committee work as the health coordinator and the designated grant writer.
As the health coordinator, he proctors the health committee meetings, which include teachers, principals, nurses, and the superintendent. Together, they develop health-focused school policies, such as tobacco and drug policies. While ensuring the health and safety of the students is first and foremost, the committee also focuses on staff health initiatives by organizing staff walks during lunch time and biannual blood pressure checks. By caring for faculty and staff—and modeling healthy behavior for students—Stranahan hopes to show the student community that attention to health is a lifelong effort.
Most notably, Stranahan arranges a health fair for the students. He reaches out to healthcare providers in the community and coordinates with them to host speaking events for the students and the community. “Anyone from local doctors to hospital staff come out to share their knowledge on health… so, the kids are learning from that,” says Stranahan. Anytime the students can hear different perspectives from other knowledgeable sources in the community, it helps them understand and value the information in a new way than they would from hearing it in classroom curriculum alone.
While searching for grants on his usual online platforms like the New York State Education website, Stranahan stumbled upon the Apples4Ed grant. “I thought ‘you know what, I have an idea that might correlate with what they’re granting,’ and that’s when I came up with the idea for school-wide walks, where students and faculty walk the track, and at the end of the walk they get nice fresh apples.” Stranahan did not hesitate to apply, and to his surprise, his school was awarded the grant.
“We had the check presentation here at school. Some kids were involved in that and were happy to be part of it all. Our superintendent and principal are very excited about it.” He described the award as a complete success and “a bit shocking” because he knew there were so many deserving schools that applied.
Stranahan plans to use the Apples4Ed grant to organize a student walks throughout the year. Along the walking track, signage will showcase nutritional facts about fruits and vegetables that students can relate to in their daily lives. As a health and nutrition enthusiast, his mission is to get the kids active while simultaneously enriching their knowledge on healthy food options and trying to find unique ways for the students to engage with that information and internalize it.
For many families in the RJSHS community, the prices of fresh produce per pound can sometimes be unaffordable for parents. Instead, some resort to purchasing less healthy options at cheaper rates. “It’s very expensive to get the fresh fruits and veggies,” says Stranahan. “Families do not have those funds. Typically, students eat potato chips and sometimes occasional fruits, but more so, we see the Dorito-type snacks.”
Stranahan estimates that throughout the school year, the grant will allow for at least four separate walks with creative signs sporting information about nutritional and other health-related content. He anticipates high participation among students, faculty, and community members alike. “We plan on spreading the word through family phone messaging and emails to the entire school community,” Stranahan says.
When asked what he thinks the students will take away from the program, he replied, “mainly, to come to school and try to learn as much as you can…understand the importance of eating healthy and getting some exercise to hopefully get prepared to be a productive citizen, do well in college, get a good job, and live life happily.” By combining the act of exercise with nutritional information at the same time, he hopes students will draw a stronger connection between the feeling of burning calories and the need to eat healthy fuel to feel their best.
Stranahan has high hopes for his students and is pleased to be offering them the opportunity to bite into some delicious apples. “I tell you what, kids love the apples cause they’re not always readily available for them.”
Rensselaer City School District is one of five schools awarded a $4,000 Apples4Ed grant this year. Read more about other 2019 grant recipients and the communities where Apples4Ed is making a difference in the lives of students and those who support them here.