Heroes for Healthy Schools: Coming Together for Student Wellness and Achievement

April 04, 2011

Cornell McClellan, President Obama’s personal trainer and a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, is going back to elementary school to issue a healthy challenge to Chicago’s schoolchildren, while more than 60 chefs are coming to the classroom to talk food. And Chicago runners and soccer players are lacing up to share their love of sports—all part of the of Heroes for Healthy Schools: Coming Together for Student Wellness and Achievement, a weeklong series of events presented as a partnership of Healthy Schools Campaign, Chicago Public Schools Nutrition Support Services and the Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The week kicks off National Minority Health Month and focuses attention on programs in Chicago that support student wellness and achievement. The Office of Minority Health has decided to highlight the efforts in Chicago as excellent examples of school-community partnerships supporting low-income minority students, particularly with regard to healthy school food and fitness.

“OMH chose to focus on healthy school food this Minority Health Month because minority children participate in the school lunch program in larger numbers, and are also most affected by health disparities such as obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes,” says Dr. Garth Graham, deputy assistant secretary for minority health, Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “The link between health disparities and lower achievement is no longer a mystery. It has been proven that, as the program that Healthy Schools Campaign launched in Chicago so cleverly puts it, healthy kids are 'fit to learn'.”

Events and programs throughout the week show how Chicago schools, parents, and community, civic and business groups are working together to make school food more nutritious, increase physical activity, and address the educational achievement gap for poor and minority students. The week also highlights the work of individual “healthy school heroes” making a difference in the lives of Chicago’s schoolchildren.

Events during the week include health and wellness training sessions for school nurses and a screening of the documentary Crisis in the Crib: Saving Our Nation’s Babies, with author and producer Tonya Lewis Lee.  OMH will launch its Action Learning Collaborative, a group of leaders working on student health and fitness issues, during a citywide forum on health and educational achievement disparities. Thirty peer health outreach educators from Chicago and around the United States will be on hand to support these activities. For a full schedule of events, visit: www.healthyschoolscampaign.org/healthheroes

“As a district, we’ve employed a variety of strategies to build upon our positive momentum toward healthier schools,” says Louise Esaian, logistics officer and head of school nutrition for Chicago Public Schools.  “For example, this school year, we were the first major public school district to adopt the USDA’s HealthierUS Gold menu standard, serving whole grains and a variety fruits and vegetables, reducing sodium and emphasizing local produce. During this year’s planning process, we’re encouraging schools to develop and include health and wellness goals into their annual school improvement plan.”

Other exciting initiatives in Chicago include :  

  • Answering First Lady Michelle Obama’s call to get chefs involved with schools, HSC and CPS partnered to host the nation’s largest and most comprehensive Chefs Move to Schools event in October 2010, training and pairing nearly 70 chefs with schools for health and wellness activities.
  • Launching the Go for the Gold initiative to help at least 100 schools meet the USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge for food and fitness. Since the start of the 2010-11 school year, 26 Chicago schools have completed the requirements.
  • Presenting HSC's Cooking up Change contest, which challenges high school culinary student teams—mentored by professional chefs—to create tasty, nutritious lunches that meet nutrition standards and budgetary constraints and are scalable by school food service programs. The 2010 winning team had their meal served across the district, received culinary school scholarships and in May will travel to Washington, D.C. to compete in the national contest. 
  • Training teachers through Fit to Learn, a three-part professional development program that offers practical approaches to making health and wellness a regular part of the classroom experience.

“We’re proud of Chicago’s efforts to make meaningful, positive changes that improve children’s access to healthy food and increase fitness levels,” says Rochelle Davis, president and CEO, Healthy Schools Campaign. “While we still have a long way to go to eliminate the serious challenges facing our students, this is a good moment for us to recognize our progress and strategize for the future.” 

Learn more and nominate your own hero for healthy schools at www.healthyschoolscampaign.org/healthheroes! ?