What’s Ahead for Healthy Schools in Chicago in 2015

January 13, 2015

It’s an exciting time to reflect on the impact of our work in the last year, think about the changes we’ve seen in the health and education sectors, and look ahead to the issues and challenges we’ll take on in 2015.

by Rochelle Davis, HSC President and CEO

Happy new year!

It’s an exciting time to reflect on the impact of our work in the last year (here in Chicago and across the nation), think about the changes we’ve seen in the health and education sectors, and look ahead to the issues and challenges we’ll take on in 2015.

One interesting change that took place in 2014 was in the model that public health leaders at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) use to consider and address health in schools. I’m happy to say that it’s a thoroughly positive change reflecting an approach close to the heart of our work here at Healthy Schools Campaign.

The CDC’s model for Coordinated School Health has been a useful reference point for educators, advocates and public health professionals for nearly two decades. As the CDC explains: “Since 1987, CDC’s coordinated school health (CSH) approach has been the blueprint for integrating health-promoting practices in the school setting. CSH programs have helped to establish policies and practices in states, districts, and schools across the nation.”

Now the CDC, with help from ASCD, an organization dedicated to promoting the Whole Child approach, has updated and expanded this model to reflect the ways that individuals and organizations throughout a community — including teachers in a school, nurses in a medical setting and individuals in the community — can work together to fully support children’s health. The CDC says: “The education, public health, and school health sectors have each called for greater alignment, integration, and collaboration between education and health to improve each child’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development. Public health and education serve the same children, often in the same settings. The WSCC [the updated model] focuses on the child to align the common goals of both sectors.” You can read more here and take a close look at the new model.

Of course, the ideas of working together and considering the needs of the whole child are not new. And we know it takes more than an updated model to see change in schools. But it’s encouraging to see these concepts — which are so integrated into HSC’s approach and on-the-ground work — elevated at the national level and formally promoted by the CDC. Our experience has shown us that this approach brings powerful results for kids’ health.

In 2015, we’ll continue to move forward with programs that put this idea into action. What does that look like? A few examples in Chicago include :

Greening Chicago’s schoolyards to promote learning, physical activity, community engagement and environmental benefits. In 2014, our Space to Grow program transformed four Chicago schoolyards into centers for outdoor learning, play and engagement with nature and art. The schoolyard designs allow them to capture large amounts of rainwater, which protects the environment and helps prevent flooding. This new initiative is grounded in a unique partnership with a diverse group of stakeholders: It’s led by HSC and Openlands with the support of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, CPS and the Chicago Department of Water Management. In 2015, we’ll put measures in place to maintain those four amazing schoolyards. We’ll also design, build and launch six more, and select an additional six schoolyards for 2016. And we’ll host a national summit to share the Space to Grow model and learn from others in the field.

Working with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to bring needed health services to more students. We see an important opportunity rethink the way health services are delivered to CPS students. New marketplace incentives created by the Affordable Care Act and the recent news that a key barrier to funding school health services has been removed (thanks in part to sustained advocacy from HSC and others), make this an ideal time for action. In 2014, HSC convened stakeholder groups to discuss these opportunities. In 2015, we will work with CPS, public health and health systems leaders to develop and implement a plan to provide more comprehensive and coordinated care to CPS students.

Empowering stakeholders throughout the school community. At the heart of HSC’s work is the belief that individuals throughout the school community — students, parents, educators, school nurses, custodial staff and community members — are key leaders in creating lasting change. Our programs are built around this belief: Cooking up Change engages students in the movement for healthy school food, Parents United empowers parents to successfully advocate for changes at the school and district levels, and Fit to Learn equips teachers and principals with tools to create a culture of wellness their schools. Through Space to Grow, we’re reaching a new group of community members who are empowered to be part of transforming schoolyards in their neighborhoods. Our plans for 2015 are shaped by the concerns these on-the-ground leaders have voiced and focus on continuing to empower champions for healthy schools.

We’re excited about the promise of the year ahead.