What Lessons from Chicago will Obama and Arne Duncan Take to DC?

March 28, 2009

By Rochelle Davis, Founding Executive DirectorChicago-hallway

Chicago has been in the spotlight more than usual for the past few months, as President Barack Obama and new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan transition to DC from careers that began in this city. With HSC’s office in Chicago and some of our key programs focused on healthy change in Chicago Public Schools, we have been giving a great deal of thought to the lessons on health and education that our leaders will bring from Chicago to the national policy dialogue.

It’s with this in mind that HSC is pleased to release our new report, Healthy and Ready to Learn: Lessons from Chicago. This report outlines the five lessons on school health that we’d like to see our leaders bring to DC, along with personal stories and policy recommendations for each.

Why do these Chicago lessons matter? We know that one of the greatest challenges facing our leaders is to provide a good education and a health-promoting environment for students in urban school districts serving low-income communities of color. The Chicago Public Schools system serves more than 400,000 students at more than 650 schools. African-American and Latino students comprise 85 percent of the district’s student population. More than 83 percent of the student population is considered low-income, and the district serves more than 56 million school meals per year.

I can’t imagine a more appropriate place for these lessons to originate: both the challenges and the promise of this system make the lessons learned here valuable for our nation as a whole.

I hope you’ll take a moment to check out the full report and share it with your colleagues. We’d love to hear your feedback and invite you to sign on as a supporter of the policy recommendations. But first, let me share a quick summary of the five lessons:

  1. A healthy school environment supports learning.
  2. Healthy school meals are critical for student health and learning.
  3. Physical activity supports student health and helps students focus on learning.
  4. School nurses are important for promoting student health.
  5. Parent and stakeholder engagement can be a powerful catalyst for making school-based change.

These are simple, common-sense lessons. Although the related policy changes are not always easy to implement, we hope that our leaders will make it a priority to consider these lessons and the value of healthy schools.  As schoolchildren in Chicago can attest, small changes make a big difference: a healthy meal, a few minutes of physical activity and clean classroom air all go a long way to help children focus and do their best at school.