Celebrating a Year of Progress for Healthier Chicago Schools

August 15, 2014

A landmark year

Last month, we had the pleasure of hosting 300 guests — including HSC board and committee members, individual and corporate donors, partner organizations and agencies, and school and parent leaders — at our Change for Good luncheon. The event was generously hosted by luncheon chair Sue Gin, founder and CEO of Flying Food Group, along with HSC’s Civic and Business Advisory Committee and co-chairs Karen Atwood, president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, and Terry Mazany, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust.

We were honored to have keynote speaker Dr. Kent McGuire, president and CEO of the Atlanta, Georgia-based Southern Education Fund , provide a national perspective on how his nearly 150-year-old organization has begun to take on student health as a key factor in addressing educational equity in the Southern states. We also presented leadership awards to outstanding Chicago principals and parents who are making healthy changes in their schools.

We launched Change for Good a year ago as a three-year plan to transform school food, student fitness, schoolyards and the classroom experience in Chicago. While last month’s event was an important one for us to rally additional support and resources around this bold initiative, it was also a moving reminder of the cooperation — for which we’re so grateful — required to effect change of this scale.

After all, what could be more important to each of us and to the city of Chicago than the health and well-being of our kids? When we talk about transforming school health, these are not just words. In the face of a childhood obesity crisis that hits hardest in many of Chicago’s low-income and under-resourced communities, we need our schools to be healthier places for all students to learn and grow. And we need a diverse set of partners to work with and support our schools in this effort.

In the year since we launched Change for Good, we’re proud to report on the exciting progress that has been made. At the same time, we recognize the work that remains ahead.

In the area of school food — during a year when the USDA’s national nutrition standards have been subject to much public and political scrutiny — CPS continues to uphold high standards for school food and is continually looking for innovative ways to improve the overall nutritional value and quality of school meals. For example, CPS is investing in facility upgrades so it can end the practice of serving pre-plated frozen meals in schools that don’t have full-service kitchens. And, the district continues grow its farm to school program, which is already the biggest in the country.

It’s been a landmark year for student fitness in Chicago. In January, CPS passed a district-wide policy requiring daily PE for all students . It’s been 20 years since PE was a core part of the Chicago school day. Until now, most CPS students had just one PE class per week. The new policy will be phased in over a three-year period starting this school year.

This year, in partnership with Openlands, we launched our Space to Grow program to transform Chicago schoolyards into dynamic spaces for outdoor learning, play, PE, gardening, art and environmental education. This summer, with financial support and leadership from CPS, the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, we broke ground at four pilot schools where construction crews and site architects are currently taking all the thoughts and ideas from students and community members and turning them into brand new schoolyards, which are scheduled for completion this fall. In the coming years, we aim to roll this program out to dozens more schools across the city.

Finally, in the area of healthy classrooms, we continue to collaborate with principals, teachers, school nurses and parents to ensure that health and wellness are incorporated into all aspects of the school day, and reinforced at home. We do this by offering principal and teacher trainings centered on school health; recognizing the often under-appreciated roles of school nurses and sharing best practices through our School Nurse Leadership Award program; and working with parents who want to learn more about school health and sharing with them the skills and resources to engage with their children’s schools and bring healthy lessons into their homes.

In the coming weeks, we’ll introduce you to the inspiring principal and parent leaders who were recognized at the Change for Good luncheon for the work they’ve done to champion school health in their schools and across the district.

In Year 2 of Change for Good, we’re looking forward to continuing our work with CPS to make schools healthier places for Chicago students to learn and grow.

Check out a photo gallery from the event on Facebook.