A Principal’s Perspective on Go for the Gold

July 11, 2013

One principal reflects on successful progress through Go for the Gold.

At Madero Middle School in Chicago’s South Lawndale neighborhood, school wellness is a community effort. Everyone, including Principal Jose Luis Illanes, parents, teachers, students and the school dining staff, plays a role.

Illanes says he began the process with “a good desire but no information,” and from there, with the help of a number of partners and a committed school wellness team, worked to make some key health-promoting changes that led to Madero receiving Gold certification from the HealthierUS School Challenge.

“I reacted with excitement when I found out [about certification],” Illanes says. “That was the goal that I had intended for the school. I always try to do what I believe is good for the kids… the best thing we can offer. The certification was a great goal and a great accomplishment.”

At the beginning of the process of Madero’s health-promoting transformation, he worked with parents and community members to form a wellness team, which could work with partners in the school and the community to make important changes. Illanes met with Jovita Flores, manager of Parents United for Healthy Schools. They discussed the Go for the Gold Campaign, an initiative of HSC and Chicago Public Schools. Go for the Gold aimed to improve school food and fitness, helping schools apply for certification from the HealthierUS School Challenge, which was part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s school-based plan to combat childhood obesity.

This solid parent wellness team has formed the foundation of Madero’s success, he says. It helps promote the school’s culture of wellness and extend it into the home while working to solidify important changes in nutrition and fitness.

He has worked with Flores and the parent wellness team to provide a number of activities to engage parents and help them develop the same connection to health that their children were getting through their experiences at school. These include after-school fitness groups and, with the help of Parents United, St. Anthony Hospital and other community partners, a parent-driven healthy cooking class held in the culinary arts classroom at Madero.

In this class, parents share their healthy takes on traditional recipes and classic staples. Today the class has even grown beyond the Madero community, opening its doors to parents from other schools, so that Madero’s healthy message reaches an even wider audience. Through these activities, parents are able to invest in the culture of health at Madero and continue supporting healthy students through food and fitness at home.

Illanes advises other principals to engage and educate parents as a means of making health-promoting changes at school. “Always keep in mind that student benefit is the goal,” Illanes says. “We are living in a society and at a time when obesity is becoming a real concern. Anything we can do at the local schools to help parents develop a good conscience around healthy eating? That’s part of our responsibility.”

Congratulations to Principal Illanes, the students, teachers and staff at Madero Middle School and the parent wellness team on working together and achieving Gold certification through the HealthierUS School Challenge!

Learn more: