Chicago Policy

HSC is grounded in a special focus on Chicago Public Schools and the wellness issues affecting the district’s primarily low-income students of color. We start with a social justice perspective and believe this focus is especially critical in light of our nation’s health disparities.

Health-Promoting Policies Are Especially Important in Chicago

One of the most effective tools in shaping healthy school environments is a strong wellness policy, the name given to policies addressing school food, physical activity and physical education in schools. The wellness policy, a federal requirement established in 2004, guides the district’s efforts to promote healthy eating and physical activity, support student learning and help address our nation’s obesity epidemic.

Policy supporting healthy eating and physical activity is especially critical in Chicago, where more than 85 percent of students are at increased risk for chronic health conditions and obesity.

CPS has adopted three policies that promote healthy eating and physical activity. They include: the Local School Wellness Policy, the Healthy Snack and Beverage Policy and the Physical Education (PE) Policy. Combined, these policies address nutritional standards for food served in cafeterias and vending machines as well as requirements for nutrition education and physical education.

Read more about the CPS wellness policies and how we’re helping Chicago schools implement them.

Healthy Classrooms Boost Good Behavior + Learning

Schools play a powerful role in shaping students’ lifelong habits and behaviors. The classroom experience, in particular, is ripe with opportunities to seamlessly integrate physical activity and nutrition education into lessons and activities. In turn, healthy classroom activities improve classroom focus and behavior—and help decrease absenteeism.

We’re committed to supporting a culture of wellness in CPS with a strong focus on healthy classrooms. Our approach to transforming the classroom experience is based on an effective and time-tested model of working with key stakeholders to engage, advocate and build.

Read more about our work in Chicago classrooms.

Physical Education Supports Academic Success

Research shows that physically active students are more likely to attend school, are better able to focus in class and ultimately perform better academically. Physical activity increases brain function, reduces disciplinary problems and increases test scores.

We know that healthy students are better learners, and we believe PE should be an integral part of the school day for all students. We were an active partner in advocating for and helping create the new CPS PE Policy. Since the policy was adopted, we have been helping schools implement daily PE for students through professional development and capacity building.

Read more about our work to strengthen physical education in Chicago.

School Food Directly Affects Health and Learning

With each meal comes the opportunity to support schools’ core mission of education: studies consistently document a powerful connection between health and academic achievement. A vast body of research shows that improved nutrition in schools can lead to increased focus and attention, improved test scores and better classroom behavior. Very simply, healthy, well-nourished students are more likely to attend school and to be engaged and ready to learn.

Ninety percent of CPS students come from low-income families and qualify for federally subsidized meals. Many of these students rely on schools for most of their meals. At the same time, more than 40 percent of Chicago students are overweight or obese. In this context, it is especially critical that the meals students receive at school are healthy and help build habits that support students’ long-term health and academic potential.

Read more about our work to improve school food in Chicago.

Realizing the Potential of Our Schoolyards

The grounds surrounding our schools can and should be more than parking lots or vacant space. A thoughtfully designed schoolyard can be an extension of the classroom, rich with potential benefits for students, communities and the environment.

In recent years, CPS has taken significant steps to support the health and long-term wellness of the city’s students. This includes bringing back recess, expanding PE, supporting school gardening, adopting a strong Wellness Policy and improving nutrition standards for school food. Nearly all of these initiatives can be enhanced through the transformation of a school’s outdoor space.

Read more about our work to transform schoolyards in Chicago.