How Common Threads Helped Schools Implement CPS’ Wellness Policy

  • December 5, 2016
Downtown Photo

Healthy Schools Campaign—in partnership with the Office of Student Health and Wellness and with the support of stakeholders—conducted a review of the Local School Wellness Policy and the Healthy Snack and Beverage Policy. We’re sharing the stories of two partners who worked closely with the district to assist schools in implementing the policy’s provisions.

After Chicago Public Schools (CPS) adopted its Local School Wellness Policy and Healthy Snack and Beverage Policy in 2012, the next challenge was supporting schools in implementing the health-supporting elements of the policy. The Office of Student Health and Wellness (OSHW) was created to support and guide schools to reduce health-related barriers to learning. One way OSHW achieves this is by helping them implement the requirements of the wellness policy.

OSHW provided additional technical assistance to selected schools, which involved working closely with the school to provide tailored professional development and connecting the school with programming and resources offered by nonprofit food and fitness partners. OSHW also identified a few key food and fitness partners with strong relationships and rapport in Chicago schools to provide additional technical assistance. In addition to this technical assistance, these partners provided quality programming in the school to support healthy eating and physical activity.

One of these partners was Common Threads, a national nonprofit that provides nutrition and cooking education through in- and after-school programs to children, families and teachers in underserved communities. Programming includes school-day nutrition lessons, after-school cooking classes and parent workshops. During the 2015-2016 school year, Common Threads reached more than 21,000 students and 3,500 adults across 72 schools in Chicago. Facilitated by trained classroom teachers and local chefs, Common Threads’ programming teaches elementary and middle school students and their families critical nutrition knowledge and cooking skills to empower them to make healthier choices and become agents of change in their communities. Ongoing evaluation efforts indicate that Common Threads students experience an improvement in nutrition knowledge, liking of vegetables, communication to the family about healthy eating and their preference for home-cooked food.

Common Threads leveraged its relationships with CPS schools to help them meet the provisions of the district’s wellness policy—many of which fall outside of nutrition education. Common Threads helped guide these schools to form wellness teams, complete assessments of how well their school aligns with the policy, create action plans to address gaps, and report their progress to the district.

During this process, Common Threads also learned how to best enhance its own programming so it is better positioned to support the wellness policy requirements. For example, CPS’ newly released Health Education Scope and Sequence noted the importance of healthy hydration, which became a new area of focus for Common Threads programming. It adapted its lessons about herbs and spices to include herb-infused water and a conversation about hydration in order to better align with the district’s priorities.

Thanks to dedicated partners like Common Threads, more and more schools are getting the support they need to implement the district’s wellness policy provisions.