Healthy, Focused & Ready to Learn: CPS on the Success of Go for the Gold

July 30, 2013

The Go for the Gold campaign helped more than 90,000 students benefit from health-promoting changes in their schools! Here, CPS reflects on this success and next steps.

 Three years ago, Healthy Schools Campaign partnered with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) on the Go for the Gold campaign, a local, on-the-ground response to First Lady Michelle Obama’s call for an end to childhood obesity. Now, 119 schools have been certified by the HealthierUS School Challenge, and an additional 97 schools have made major health-promoting changes. As a result, over 90,000 students in more than 40 percent of CPS elementary schools are benefiting from significant improvements to school food, nutrition education, physical activity and physical education.

Annie Lionberger, Senior Manager of Student Wellness at CPS, says Go for the Gold was key to progress in meeting this challenge: “Go for the Gold has been essential, to increase the recognition of the link between student wellness and academic achievement. Schools play a vital role in ensuring that students having an healthy environment to learn and play.”

 Lionberger says there are “a-ha!” moments for her every day; these changes are really happening. She sees them when she visits dining centers serving more fruits and vegetables and sustainable, regionally-grown chicken raised without antibiotics; at schools with school garden programs (and several piloting an exciting upcoming Garden-to-Cafeteria program), in classrooms that incorporate physical activity and nutrition education, in hallways where parents and teachers collaborate on healthy fundraisers.

 Plus, all CPS students are benefiting from the effects of this partnership. The momentum around Go for the Gold helped create a tipping point that led to district-wide wellness policy changes that now make these improvements a citywide standard. Last year’s creation of the Office of Student Health and Wellness was a particularly big milestone. Lionberger says the establishment of this office and of a Chief Health Officer in Dr. Stephanie Whyte have helped institutionalize CPS’ commitment to these changes. To support student health and wellness, the district has received more than $5 million.

“We understood this is something that schools could do, and it was a challenge, but it also was doable and something we wanted every school to strive towards,” Lionberger says. “We wanted policies to reflect those priorities.”

Changes large and small make it clear that this commitment to wellness is not just a temporary change to meet a USDA standard or a Chicago Public Schools standard. It’s an important part of school culture that will lead to students adopting healthy habits for life.

Dr. Stephanie Whyte, the Chief Health Officer for Chicago Public Schools, says she sees the work of the Office of Student Health and Wellness, Healthy Schools Campaign and other community partners as reflective of an inherent understanding of the need for policy to drive system and environmental change.

She highlights the change in accountability measure for the CPS report card. With the passage of a report card indicator for school wellness, school stakeholders were able to clearly see that this issue was important and measurable.

 And CPS does not plan to end its commitment to making all of its schools healthier places with the close of the Go for the Gold campaign. In June of 2013, CPS launched LearnWELL, a new initiative building off the launchpad that Go for the Gold provided with the goal of ensuring every school stakeholder in Chicago is involved in student wellness. Through LearnWELL, CPS will support schools in aligning with CPS wellness policies to promote health and academic performance, and ensure all schools become LearnWELL schools.

 We thank CPS and the Office of Student Health and Wellness for their ongoing commitment to creating healthy school environments, and look forward to the next phase of this partnership. Earlier this summer, CPS launched the LearnWELL toolkit, a guide for school stakeholders including information on wellness policies, healthy school fundraisers, school food and fitness and more. For more information on the LearnWELL initiative and to download the toolkit, please visit www.learnwellcps.org.