Continuing the Movement at the Parent Leadership Summit

May 01, 2013

Last week, we were proud to welcome more than 125 parents from all over the city of Chicago to the 7th Annual Parents Summit, a unique conference by parents, for parents focusing on providing resources and a knowledge base to create change in schools and communities all over the city.

by Guillermo Gomez

Last week, we were proud to welcome more than 125 parents from all over the city of Chicago to the 7th Annual Parents Summit, a unique conference by parents, for parents focusing on providing resources and a knowledge base to create change in schools and communities all over the city. To have an auditorium full of engaged, passionate parents excited about creating change for healthier schools and eradicating childhood obesity was truly a testament to where the Parents United for Healthy Schools movement has come, and where we are headed.

It’s been eight years since our first rally, and we’ve come a long way. When we first started, there were two schools. Now, Parents United has reached more than 60 schools through parent-led wellness teams. This is a movement, and the impact is growing every day. We have seen Chicago Public Schools adopt these policies and, through coalition-building with schools, school administrators, teachers and community partners, have forged a national model for healthier schools that has sparked interest from communities all across the country.  

In fact, just two weeks ago, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin visited a Parents United school to observe the ways parents, teachers, school administrators and community partners are working together to promote health. As Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia pointed out during his speech at the summit, “the Surgeon General doesn’t just go anywhere. She goes where there are living examples of great things that are going on in communities that make our country a better place, a healthier place for everyone, from grandpas like me to little children who are just going through school.”

Chicago’s public schools, too, are paying attention to our work and have incorporated many of the changes we fought for in their new wellness policies. This is a huge step. Through wellness policies, we have a fantastic mechanism for change. But we have to make them active. We have to continue to make these changes so not only 60 schools are led by parent wellness teams — we want all schools to have parent involvement.

 

The Parents Summit, held at Arturo Velazquez West Side Technical Institute, gave parent leaders a toolkit for holding their schools accountable and ensuring these policies are enacted. Many of these parents, for example, are passionate about ensuring their children get recess every day at school, and through Parents United efforts, CPS does have a mandate requiring daily recess for elementary school students. A breakout session with Urban Initiatives provided parents with education materials about different ways to hold recess with limited resources and the tools for parents to ensure recess is not only happening daily, but is a positive experience for students.

This is the first year we offered these breakout sessions, with many focusing on school and community health as social justice issues, and how changing lifestyles can extend to change families, schools, communities, cities and so on. As one of our presenters, Sheelah Muhammad, who led an incredibly thought-provoking presentation on food and community justice, put it: “Where you live determines how you live.”

Muhammad told the group about recent research that indicates a person’s ZIP code will be a better predictor of life expectancy than genetic codes. Knowledge, as we all know, is power, and we hope to empower parents all over the city of Chicago with the knowledge and resources to make changes in their own households, schools and communities to improve their health and quality of life. We had sessions about healthy cooking at home and healthy mornings, cooking demonstrations and physical activity time, so parents could apply lessons about health at home as well and continue to be role models for their children.

We were excited to add these breakout sessions this year, and we structured them so parents could attend a variety of workshops that were different in presentation style but interconnected in substance. For example, parents could attend the session from Dr. Sarah Buck of Chicago State University, where she presented her research showing the importance of physical activity on student achievement, and then a more dynamic session on Active Lifestyles led by Girls in the Game which involved parents getting up and moving themselves.

One of our parent leaders, Cristina Hernandez from Greene Elementary School, said she was excited to see so many parents engaged and asking questions, and learned a lot about the importance of recess and physical activity. I certainly felt the same way — it was exciting to watch the next stages of the movement unfold before our eyes, and I hope our parent leaders will take these new tools and strategies back to their communities and make even more great changes.

I would like to extend my thanks to all of the parent leaders, volunteer translators, presenters and community partners who participated in the Parents Summit:

And a huge thank you to all our parent participants! You are leaders in your communities and should be very proud of how far you’ve come. We can’t wait to see the impact you make for your schools and your children.