Surgeon General Sees How Chicago Communities Work Together for Healthy Schools

April 18, 2013

Last week HSC was thrilled to be part of U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin’s visit to Chicago, which enabled her to hear stories from parents, students, school administrators and community partners working together to make their schools healthier places.

Last week HSC was thrilled to be part of U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin’s visit to Chicago, which enabled her to hear stories from parents, students, school administrators and community partners working together to make their schools healthier places.

In Chicago’s McKinley Park neighborhood, Dr. Benjamin and her staff visited Nathanael Greene Elementary School, a school that has worked closely with passionate community members to create a healthy environment for students.

Dr. Benjamin met with parent leaders from HSC’s Parents United for Healthy Schools to hear stories about how they were making their schools healthier places.

For some parents, the discussion was very personal. Marta Ramirez, a parent leader from Jungman Elementary School in Pilsen, talked about how her son used to have cholesterol problems, but as parents and the school worked to make key changes for health, he doesn’t anymore. Mario, also a parent leader from Jungman, said he would like to work to get more fathers involved and would like to create a support network to do that.

Hilda Cazares, a parent leader and chef with a healthy catering business, recently helped form a wellness team at Westinghouse College Prep and has been working with other parents and school administrators to get healthy snack options in the school store. Margarita Flores, a parent leader at Burroughs School, said she would like to see more personnel available to teach health education.

Karina Macedo, the leader of the local school council at Greene Elementary and a parent leader who has been recognized by the White House for her work on school health, was the last to speak. She highlighted the many amazing nutrition and fitness programs at Greene, from volleyball and soccer to Zumba and healthy cooking classes. She also praised the work of her fellow parents  as well as the teachers and the principal for being a part of these efforts.

“I went to the White House to celebrate the thousands of parents who work hard every day in their own schools to make the change we need to have a better life,” Macedo said.

Dr. Benjamin praised the efforts of these parent leaders and their actions.  “As America’s doctor, this is a thing we’ve been wanting to do,” she told the parents. “We want all schools to be like this. You’re a great example. We want to make sure that other cities and other towns around the country can do the same thing, and they can see the examples. You’re the leaders on this and you should be very proud.”

After the discussion, Dr. Benjamin observed the work of a number of community partners working to make Greene Elementary a healthier school. Common Threads led a healthy cooking class and students showed off their culinary skills. Openlands and The Kitchen [Community] demonstrated students’ green thumbs with a vegetable gardening demonstration and a tour of the school’s raised-bed garden. Urban Initiatives showed how the space is maximized for indoor recess, and the Surgeon General even played a four-square-style ball game with some of the students.

The last stop of the day was back to the library, where Dr. Benjamin met with local, state and regional leaders on health and education, including representatives from the USDA, the Department of Education, Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign and more. While discussing, they dined on chicken raised without antibiotics featured as part of a Cooking up Change winning meal.

Throughout the day, Dr. Benjamin met with students and watched them in the classroom. She asked them, “How many of you want to be doctors?” Many shot their hands up and smiled, calling out, “Me! Me! Me!”

Not only was it exciting to see children light up at imagining their futures, but to look around the room and see a united front working tirelessly to help children stay healthy and in school so one day they can lead the lives they dream of.

As former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders once said, “You can't educate a child who isn't healthy, and you can't keep a child healthy who isn't educated.”