Celebrating Collaboration Between Parents and Principals

March 03, 2016

Ten years ago, Luis Soria was the first principal to speak at the first annual Principals’ Breakfast back in 2007. We organized that first Principals’ Breakfast as Chicago Public Schools (CPS) was rolling out new wellness policies. There was no real mechanism at the time for making an announcement and informing parents about what these policies were, why they were important and what how parents could work together with principals to support implementation.

Soria, now a network chief in CPS, spoke last week at the 10th annual Principals’ Breakfast, an event hosted by Healthy Schools Campaign. This annual event brings together parents and principals who participate in our Parents United for Healthy Schools coalition and principals whose schools participate in our Fit to Learn professional development program or our Space to Grow schoolyard transformation program.

Although each parent and principal might interact with Healthy School Campaign in a different program, everyone was in attendance because they care about our kids and students and are dedicated to ensuring that all students—regardless of race or socioeconomic status—attend school in healthy environments that allow them to thrive.

Soria spoke about why recess was important and how Ellen Mitchell Elementary School prioritized and implemented recess before it was CPS policy. “When students have healthy school environments that promote healthy eating in the classroom and beyond and provide adequate physical activity opportunities, they are better prepared to learn,” Soria said.

Since then, the annual breakfast has served as an opportunity to introduce and reinforce strategies for making schools healthier places. A lot has changed in the past 10 years. The work of principals and parents has helped bring recess back to CPS, championed Breakfast in the Classroom, advocated for healthier school food, pioneered the formation of more than 60 wellness teams and collected signatures in support of daily physical education.

Principal Dana Butler from Irma C. Ruiz Elementary also spoke at the breakfast. Recently, the school has been working hard to move away from unhealthy fundraisers—like candy bar sales—and move toward healthy ones—like a recent successful walk-a-thon. Ruiz Elementary recently found out it achieved Level 1 status—the second highest of five ratings according to CPS’  School Quality Rating Policy. “I truly believe that creating a school environment that values the health of my students is one of the key strategies that led us to this achievement,” Butler said.

Butler called on his fellow principals and parents to step up to the plate. “Leadership at every level matters—from the student’s parent modeling healthy habits at home, to the teacher reinforcing learning concepts with health promoting messages, to the principal prioritizing a school culture that supports students in practicing healthy habits, and to the district leaders that set the tone for and communicate school priorities,” he said.

Soria and Butler represent two of the dozens of principals we’ve worked with over the past decade. We honored dozens more at the breakfast with the Champions for Student Health and Wellness award.

In addition to recognizing the hard work of principals and parents over the last decade, the Principals’ Breakfast also serves as a starting point for the work ahead. This year, we asked principals and parents to:

  • Commit to regularly convening their school wellness team and work towards achieving the district’s Healthy CPS certification.
  • Ensure the school meal program is the best it can be by making key decisions around recess scheduling, availability of white milk, school celebrations and fundraisers.
  • Integrate healthy principles into their own lives through healthy food in the staff lounges, afterschool fitness classes for staff and families and modeling other healthy behaviors.

When principals, parents and the community work together, it’s truly incredible the strides we can make in ensuring schools are healthier places for all of our children to learn. We’re looking forward to seeing the amazing changes principals and parents can create in the next decade.