How We’re Supporting Our Community

March 31, 2020

By Rochelle Davis, President + CEO

At the heart of Healthy Schools Campaign’s work has always been a focus on supporting the entire school community. By engaging with parents, teachers, school leaders and policymakers, we help schools increase their capacity to address student health needs and work to ensure that policies are in place to support healthy school environments.

The current crisis has forced us to think about healthy schools—and about our role—through a whole new lens.

Healthy Schools Campaign has always been a nimble organization, and our amazing staff has been hard at work finding the most effective ways to pivot our work to help students and families now, and to think about how to support the efforts of schools to safely reopen and support students and families further down the road.

One thing we know for sure is that the inequities that are fundamental to how our country operates are only being exacerbated by this pandemic. COVID-19 is hurting everyone, but its long-term impact on communities of color and underinvested communities will be devastating. The important role schools play in providing fundamental safety nets for children and families has been laid bare by this pandemic, and this must translate into greater public investment and seismic public policy changes.

At this moment, HSC is working hard to support its stakeholders in Chicago and nationally.

Supporting Parents and Educators, in Chicago and Beyond

In Chicago, we provide support at the district and individual school levels and also work closely with a dedicated group of Latinx and African-American parent leaders. We are able to continue much of this support by directing parents and families to emergency resources in their communities, shifting in person events online and checking in directly with parents and schools.

We are providing parents with a wide variety of resources to help them support their children during this difficult time. These resources cover dealing with anxiety, maintaining physical activity, cooking healthy foods and more. We are also focused on building community, and we’ve even been able to continue a parent cooking club with Tik Tok; parents share short videos of themselves making the dish they would have shared in person.

Sharing School Facility Cleaning Expertise

Cleaning programs are a critical part of school and university efforts to provide students and staff with the opportunity to learn and work in a place that is healthy and safe. For more than a decade, Healthy Schools Campaign has been changing the way schools clean and do infection control with a focus on cleaning for health. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust school custodial teams into a front-line battle with infection control, and forced leadership to quickly develop and implement new processes to address this outbreak.

As part of a new partnership with Green Seal, we’re expanding this work. To support schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, we hosted a series of webinars featuring the experiences of cleaning leaders at schools and universities across the country. Hundreds of school cleaning staff attended these webinars and got valuable information and resources they can put into action in their facilities immediately as they address COVID-19.

Ensuring Schools Continue to Serve Healthy Food

Millions of students rely on schools for healthy school food every day, and this pandemic has revealed just how important this safety net is. We’re encouraged to see how many schools are able to continue to provide food during school closures. We are sharing resources and information so families that need food are able to access meals.

At the same time, the federal government is still trying to lower nutrition standards for school food and make it easier for schools to serve less healthy food for students. We have been an active voice in opposition of this proposed rule and will continue to stand up for healthy school food to ensure this critical service is not weakened.

Helping States Across the Country Support Children’s Health

While the importance of school food has been getting a lot of deserved attention, schools also provide critical health services for students. Those students still need these services even when schools are closed. We are working directly with people at state departments of education, state Medicaid offices and school districts to address the challenges they’re having right now in continuing to provide health services, including helping them move forward on innovative solutions like telehealth. This group was scheduled to get together in person at the end of the month in Washington, D.C. We’ve reimagined that meeting as a virtual convening to ensure that we maintain the incredible momentum we’ve built and continue important knowledge sharing about increasing access to school health services.

We are also partnering with Kaiser Permanente, Alliance for a Healthier Generation and Action for Healthy Kids to align our resources for schools, highlight those most relevant during the current crisis and deploy them in a coordinated way. We’ll be doing a webinar series with them over the coming month and collecting best practices in order to develop a state guidance and lessons learned report for future pandemics.

Looking Toward the Future

So much of what’s happening now underlines the importance of the vision we’ve been working toward for almost two decades: a future where every student attends a healthy school.

While we want our public agencies to focus on the immediate needs created by this pandemic, we know it’s critically important to continue our work around health, education and environmental policies. The inequities we work to address every day will only be starker after schools reopen and our country restarts public life. There will be an opportunity to evaluate the systems and policies we as a nation had in place and to contribute to a national discussion about what truly matters and where resources should be invested.

You can be assured that Healthy Schools Campaign will be a loud voice in advocating for systems and policies that support student health and wellness and address the needs of our country’s most vulnerable children.