Fit to Learn Spotlight – How Schools and Chickens Teach Wellness

March 27, 2013

At last week’s Fit to Learn professional development event, educators and school administrators from all parts of the city focused on student wellness. They spent the session learning from each other, connecting with new resources — and even meeting some chickens!

The special guests of the day didn’t mind lots of attention — even when about 20 principals and teachers from around Chicago gathered to observe them as part of HSC’s Fit to Learn professional development event.  Strutting and clucking, Puddles and Daisy — chickens who live in the schoolyard of the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) — showed that they are in fact natural stars.  At AGC, a charter elementary school in Chicago’s Archer Heights neighborhood, they’re also part of the curriculum, both for classroom subjects and bigger life lessons.

“The chickens teach our students empathy and compassion,” AGC Principal Anne Gillespie said. “When a teacher asks, ‘What does Puddles need to live?’ or ‘How can I care for Daisy?’ students understand and take responsibility for another living thing.”

Wellness — inside and out — is the goal of AGC, and was also the subject of last week’s Fit to Learn professional development event, “Healthy Habits for Lifelong Learning”. Educators and school administrators from all parts of the city came to learn from one another, connect with resources and share ideas, not to mention pet some chickens. Participants focused on the importance of wellness education infused into all aspects of school — physical wellness, but also intellectual wellness, emotional wellness and social wellness, maximizing a student’s potential to succeed.

In addition to advocating for urban agriculture and school gardens, Walsh Elementary School Physical Education Teacher John Neal explained the importance of community partnerships. He, along with Principal Krish Mohip, urged school administrators to seek and take advantage of community resources to foster wellness, such as healthy cooking classes with Common Threads and soccer with Urban Initiatives.

Sarah Rand from the University of Chicago shared her research on one such Chicago nonprofit, Purple Asparagus, whose volunteers come into classrooms all over the city teaching classes about fruits and vegetables with an element of adventure and fun. Rand found that the more students participated in the program, the more they wanted to try new fruits and vegetables and enjoyed them. For more information about the Purple Asparagus evaluation, please go here.

Michael Valentino from Little Village Academy Elementary School, which is applying for Gold certification through the HealthierUS School Challenge, appreciated the emphasis on available resources and engagement. “I learned that there’s a lot of people out there who want to help us become a healthy school,” he said. “And we need to take the opportunities that are out there, and work to get more parents on board.”

We applaud the work of our facilitators, Anne Gillespie and Dan Schnitzer, Krish Mohip and John Neal and Sarah Rand, for making the event a success, and thank all our participants for their commitment to improving school wellness!