Go for the Gold at the White House: Parents, Teachers, Principals Honored for School Wellness Achiev

October 27, 2011

by Rosa Ramirez, Go for the Gold campaign manager

Last week, I was honored to join parents, teachers, principals and one very excited student on a visit to our nation’s capital, where these champions for wellness were recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama for leading their schools to meet the HealthierUS School Challenge, a cornerstone of her Let’s Move initiative.

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Chicago parents, teachers and principals on their way to the White House

Since the beginning of last year, I have worked with leaders at schools across Chicago to address the challenges that schools face in meeting high standards for healthy eating, physical activity and nutrition education as part of the Go for the Gold campaign. Go for the Gold is HSC’s partnership with Chicago Public Schools, with the USDA Midwest and Illinois State Board of Education, to support schools in meeting the HealthierUS School Challenge.

I’ve been continually impressed with the creativity and persistence that these individuals have brought to the task. The person who takes the lead in each school varies: it is sometimes a parent, sometimes a teacher, sometimes the principal. But these individuals share a commitment to making change and a real understanding that wellness is central to students’ learning and achievement. They share an ability to bring others into this effort and connect their schools with resources that can make this type of change a reality. That is why I was so thrilled to see their hard work recognized brilliantly by the First Lady herself.

These school leaders — along with their counterparts across the nation — were invited to a special celebration at the White House recognizing schools that met the challenge during the 2010-11 school year. There was such a sense of excitement that carried throughout this day, a sense that these leaders are now bringing back to their schools and communities.

Our delegation from Chicago Public Schools traveled to Washington, DC (thanks to a generous donation of tickets from Southwest Airlines) and made our first stop at the U.S. Department of Education. There, senior education policy staff met with parents, principals and teachers to share their congratulations and engage in a discussion about ways to integrate wellness initiatives into school evaluation.

Alex Roman, a sixth-grade student at Walsh Elementary, was the star of our group as we headed to the White House for the celebration. There, he read his story of school wellness to the assembled group of more than 2,000 leaders from across the nation and had the honor of introducing First Lady Michelle Obama!

We’ve heard so much about White House food and fitness initiatives over the past year and it was amazing to see these first-hand. We saw the White House bee hive, displays of apples and chefs preparing some impressive eggplants from the garden. I was also excited to see so many of the national leaders who have supported HSC’s efforts, including Audrey Rowe, Administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service at the USDA and Dr. Janey Thornton, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.

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Jovita Flores, HSC manager of Parents United for Healthy Schools (second from right) with Chicago school wellness leaders

The First Lady’s remarks at this event made everyone there feel proud and simply very appreciated. She and the White House staff made it clear that these parents, teachers and principals are leading the way for a healthier nation of students and are making Let’s Move a reality on the ground. I was thrilled to see these local leaders recognized at this level, and happy to meet their counterparts across the nation. Seeing so many people who are making real change for wellness in their schools was inspiring and heartening. I know that as these leaders bring their excitement and the lessons they’ve learned to even more schools, we will see an important shift for wellness in schools across the country.

Congratulations to the parents, teachers and principals who are making change for wellness at school! I invite you to check out First Lady Michelle Obama’s remarks in this video from the White House: