Parents Creating Change

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Parent voices can transform education and school environments. In Chicago, Healthy Schools Campaign is putting this common-sense notion into action: Parent leadership for health and wellness in schools.

Parents United for Healthy Schools/Padres Unidos para Escuelas Saludables is a coalition that brings together parents, educators and community leaders from across Chicago to advocate for healthy school environments. This means leading change at individual schools and speaking up for district-wide changes.

Healthy Schools Campaign formed Parents United in 2006 out of concern for the skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity and the growing health disparities in Chicago. 

The coalition developed through HSC's NIEHS-funded Partnership to Reduce Disparities in Asthma and Obesity in Latino Schools. To read more about this project, see the resources section below.

The coalition engages parents in training to organize school wellness teams and advocate for healthy changes to school food and fitness.

This model is motivating parents and community advocates across the nation to combat health disparities and speak up for school wellness from a social justice perspective.

Webinars: The Powerful Role of Parents

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HSC recently hosted two exciting webinars that focus on the powerful role that parents play in creating healthy school environments, and you can watch the recorded presentations.

Healthy Schools: The Role of Parents in Promoting Healthy School Environments

Parents can play a significant role in supporting their children’s health and ability to learn. Yet schools often struggle to make a positive connection with parents and fail to create opportunities for sustained parent engagement. Successful parent engagement programs establish effective relationships between school personnel and parents that reinforce children’s health and learning and cut across multiple settings—at home, in school, and in the community. Watch this informative discussion about parent engagement around school health. Hear from a community partner, a school district and a school principal about the different strategies for engaging parents in school health.

Watch the webinar.

Parent Empowerment: An Effective Strategy for Improving School Food and Fitness

Over the last eight years, Healthy Schools Campaign has provided training to more than 200 parents and provided tools and support to an additional 1,000 parents in Chicago. These parents have created wellness teams in 55 schools, 25 of which have received recognition from the USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge. In addition, these parents have successfully advocated for district policies related to school food, recess, physical education, nutrition education and district accountability and transparency. Watch the webinar to learn about HSC’s parent empowerment program and hear from parents on their work to improve school food and fitness.

Watch the webinar.

Parents United: At a Glance

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The Parents United approach involves empowering parents to make wellness a central part of the home, school and community experience. How? Parents adapt their strategies for each school and engage others who care about student health and learning. For example:

Forming wellness teams. In 2006, parents at Chicago Public Schools advocated for a district wellness policy that included parent representation on school wellness teams. Since then, parents have used wellness teams as a powerful vehicle for change, forming more than 50 across Chicago.

Creating healthy versions of traditional recipes. Parents United Manager Jovita Flores began a healthy cooking class that she describes as “more like a leadership class.” Parents work together to create healthy versions of traditional recipes and learn practical ways to embrace healthy living at home. Parents explain that this experience has motivated them to advocate for healthy food in schools.

Raising a collective voice. Some changes require action at the city or district level. In these cases, parent share information and gather support for healthy change from neighbors and other parents. For example, parents gathered more than 3,000 signatures urging the Chicago Board of Education to bring back recess.

Leading an aerobic dance lesson. Inviting others to experience the benefits of fitness first-hand helps parent advocates gain support for wellness initiatives at school. Parents lead Zumba classes, aerobics classes, folkloric dance lessons and more. This helps rally support to ensure that students have opportunities for after-school physical activity programs and energy-boosting exercise breaks throughout the school day.

Why is Parents United Important?

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In January 2012, Parents United for Healthy Schools hosted their sixth-annual Principals' Breakfast to celebrate the collaborative achievements toward school wellness across Chicago.

The event highlighted the integral role parents play in creating health schools. Thanks to all of the parents who shared their voices.

Building a Community

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Parents who take part in Parents United/Padres Unidos join like-minded advocates and leaders committed to promoting children’s wellness and combating health disparities. Parents are also prepared with the skills and practical tools to make change. Parents United activities include:

Parent Leadership Institute: an intensive four-day training on health disparities, research connecting health and learning, relevant local and national policy, and the skills to develop strategy and create change at school

Parent Summit: a one-day gathering to celebrate successes and discuss strategy

Principals' Breakfast: an event that brings together parents and principals to share effective strategies and learn from peers

Quarterly Meetings: parents discuss city-wide issues and plan actions for the months ahead

Impact in Chicago

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Parents United efforts have gained new momentum with recent victories built on years of organizing for school wellness. Recent on-the-ground achievements include:

Wellness Teams. Parent leaders have formed more than 50 active school wellness teams in schools across Chicago. Through these teams, parents are making health-promoting changes for food and fitness at the school level. Parents have been key in supporting schools' successful efforts to achieve the HealthierUS School Challenge through Go for the Gold. At McCormick Elementary School, for example, parent leaders have helped bring back daily recess, implement classroom-based physical activity programs, and champion breakfast in the classroom.

Breakfast in the Classroom. Chicago Public Schools recently brought the Breakfast in the Classroom program to all elementary

schools, ensuring that the city’s young students are able to start their day with a healthy meal. Parent leaders have been instrumental in championing this program at individual schools and at the district level.

Recess. In the 2012-13 school year, recess returned to all elementary schools in Chicago Public Schools. This follows years of parent advocacy that included gathering more than 3,000 signatures in support of recess.

Growing Parent Voice. More than 2,000 parents have been involved in Parents United for Healthy Schools and are advocating for wellness in all Chicago schools.

For updates and specific stories of school-based changes, be sure to check out Parents United updates on HSC’s blog.

National Recognition

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In 2006, HSC and a group of parents from Chicago’s Latino and African-American communities founded Parents United for Healthy Schools out of concern for health disparities and the skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity that children in Chicago’s communities face. Since then, hundreds of parents have made a difference for children’s health by becoming leaders in the effort to create healthy school environments. Thousands more have lent their support by signing petitions, attending meetings and speaking up for school wellness.

Now, Parents United is garnering national recognition for its role in transforming food and fitness in Chicago’s schools.

Jovita Flores, manager of Parents United, was recently honored by the White House as a Champion of Change. Jovita is one of 11 individuals to receive this honor, which recognizes sustainable innovation and leadership, in the area of strengthening food security. Read more about this honor here.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation recognized Parents United for Healthy Schools at its national Food & Community Conference. “When it comes to education and healthy school environments, parents voices matter,” said Sterling K. Speirn, President and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “What’s happening with these parents and in Chicago is a model for change across the country.” See a video of his full remarks here.

Parents United was recognized by local leaders as well. Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle co-sponsored a resolution honoring Parents United. When they presented the resolution, the board moved to have all members unanimously co-sponsor the resolution in an even stronger show of appreciation for parents’ work. Read more about this honor here.

Learn more about this national recognition on HSC's blog.

Get Involved

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To learn more about Parents United for Healthy Schools—​either to get involved in Chicago or learn about bringing this effective model to your community—please contact Guillermo Gómez via email or at 312-419-1810.

Resources

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Report: Partnership to Reduce Disparities in Asthma and Obesity in Latino Schools

Parents United developed through HSC's NIEHS-funded Partnership to Reduce Disparities in Asthma and Obesity in Latino Schools. To read more about this project, download the report.

 
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