Chicago Milestones for Healthy Schools: Celebrating Success in 2014

January 06, 2015

What a year! Here in Chicago, it felt like nearly every month brought a new opportunity to support health and wellness in schools.

By Rochelle Davis, HSC President and CEO

What a year! Here in Chicago, it felt like nearly every month brought a new opportunity to support health and wellness in schools. Healthy Schools Campaign staff and volunteers could be seen planting bulbs in schoolyards, meeting with parent leaders, introducing high school culinary students to chef mentors for Cooking up Change and much more. Other times, you may not have seen them at all: Much of HSC’s work helping schools build capacity and advocating for healthy policies is of the quiet, behind-the-scenes variety. All this work matters, and as a whole it brought us to some incredible milestones in 2014.

At HSC, we think of our approach as Chicago-based and nationally minded. As we work for change on a national level, we remain grounded in a special focus on Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the health and wellness issues affecting the district’s primarily low-income minority students. We work closely with parents, teachers, students and nurses here and advocate for health-promoting policies at the district level.

I’m so happy to share some of the exciting milestones we saw this year:

Greening Chicago’s Schoolyards with Space to Grow. Space to Grow transforms Chicago schoolyards into centers for outdoor learning, play and engagement with nature and art. Plus, these schoolyards’ special design allows them to capture large amounts of rainwater, reducing flooding and protecting the environment. Through this innovative partnership led by HSC and Openlands, we’ve opened four brilliant new schoolyards, with more in the works. Read more.

Increasing the Quality and Quantity of PE. Physical education is part of the school day for more CPS students than ever before thanks to a new daily PE policy HSC advocated for. In fact, 80 percent of CPS juniors and seniors are experiencing daily PE for the first time in 15 years. HSC is continuing to work with CPS to build capacity and overcome challenges to providing PE to even more students. Through our Fit to Learn professional development program, we’re also working with teachers and principals to ensure daily PE focuses on engaging all students in physical activity to build lifelong healthy habits. Read more.

Bringing Farm-to-School to New Levels. Locally grown carrots — 36,000 pounds of them! — made history on CPS lunch trays as the nation’s largest single farm-to-school purchase, with support from HSC’s advocacy and capacity-building. A school food advisory group, co-convened by HSC, urged CPS to purchase from local farmers. It is wonderful to have CPS and their partner Aramark fully embrace farm-to-school. Read more.

Engaging Parent Leaders for Healthy Schools. At the heart of HSC’s work is a special focus on the insight and power of parent leaders. Our Parents United for Healthy Schools program engages parents in Chicago’s Latino and African-American communities in speaking up for health-promoting changes at neighborhood schools and at the district level. This year, lessons from Parents United formed the basis for a CPS toolkit we developed on supporting parent engagement. Read more.

Taking a Stand Against “Copycat” Cereal. HSC advocates for continued improvement to school meals in Chicago. In 2014, CPS stopped serving “copycat” breakfast cereals that undermine efforts to send consistent health-promoting messages at school. Read more.

One of the most amazing things about working here in Chicago is the chance to see the impact of our advocacy and capacity-building work in action. Over the years, for example, we’ve supported the district in adopting policies that call for healthy classroom celebrations and have offered professional development to teachers on fun, educational ways to translate those policies into, well, real celebrations. We recently heard from some of these teachers about how their classes planned to celebrate the holidays in a healthy way. So while it isn’t technically a milestone, I’ll share one more success we’ve seen just last month that seems to embody many of the broader changes we’re celebrating: students happily dancing the “Santa shuffle” in schools where a culture of wellness is gradually becoming the norm.

Up next: Watch this space for good news about national milestones we celebrated in 2014!