By Rochelle Davis, President + CEO
As we look ahead to the coming year, we see some significant challenges but also exciting opportunities for supporting schools in creating the conditions for student health and schools wellness. As always, we will be working closely with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to ensure its 380,000 students are healthy, in school and ready to learn. We will continue our efforts to promote healthy eating, opportunities for physical activity and green schoolyards as well as launch new efforts.
This year, CPS debuted its new Healthy CPS Indicator on CPS School Progress Reports (available on the CPS website), and we’re looking forward to seeing its impact grow. By incorporating metrics for health and wellness into school accountability systems, CPS recognizes the strong relationship that exists between academic achievement and student health and wellness. Because the indicator is visible on each school’s progress report, it’s easy for parents and community members to see whether or not their school meets the criteria. This simple fact incentivizes school leaders to make changes.
The Healthy CPS Indicator measures whether schools have met district policies in four areas: providing supports for students with chronic conditions, implementing health-related instruction, promoting school wellness and delivering school-based health services. One of the key things a school must do to become “Healthy CPS” certified is to implement the district’s wellness policy.
In 2017, our work will continue to focus on providing parents, students, teachers principals and others throughout the school community with knowledge and tools to help their schools achieve the high standards for healthy school environments measured by the district’s Healthy CPS indicator.
A strong district policy and implementation plan is important. HSC has been reviewing CPS’ wellness policy environment and implementation. We are almost done with this review and will be offering CPS recommendations on how they can strengthen their wellness policy and improve implementation.
Specifically this year, we’re looking forward to:
Supporting parents and teachers in creating healthy changes. Parents and teachers are so important in making sure students are healthy, in school and ready to learn. Through our Parents United for Healthy Schools and Fit to Learn programs, we will continue to provide parents and teachers with the resources they need to be healthy role models and advocate for changes at home and at school.
Greening more Chicago schoolyards. This year, we’re constructing five new Space to Grow schoolyards and will continue to support the nine existing Space to Grow schoolyards. These new schools are transformed into places for active play and outdoor learning and become a center for community life. Key to this project is a unique partnership with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, CPS and the Chicago Department of Water Management to leverage green infrastructure funding, incorporate green infrastructure into schoolyards and address the city’s stormwater management needs.
Making school food healthier. We’ve been working with CPS for more than a decade to improve the quality and nutrition of the district’s school meal program. And students across the district are now eating healthier food thanks to changes CPS has made. Through the CPS School Food Advisory Committee, which HSC co-convenes, we are evaluating various strategies for reducing or eliminating ingredients of concern from the school meal program. Additionally, HSC is focused on helping the district codify the many changes CPS has made to improve the school food program into a clear and accessible set of food standards. HSC will also continue to work with parent leaders and school stakeholders to improve communication about school food, utilizing tools developed by HSC including a toolkit for principals, a parent checklist and a document that answers frequently asked questions about the meal program.
Increasing access to school health services. HSC has launched a new effort to expand student access to school health services. In partnership with the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago, HSC convened the Chicago School Health Access Collaborative. Together with service providers, payers and others, HSC will address some of the barriers that make delivery and coordination of care in Chicago schools difficult.
On a national level, we’ll be furthering our policy work to ensure education and health policy supports students across the country—including here in Chicago. Before the election, we released recommendations to the next administration about school health services, ESSA implementation, healthy and green schools and school food.
Your voice and your actions matter in the movement to make Chicago schools healthier places for all children to learn and grow. Stay informed with HSC’s Chicago newsletter and connect with other community members and advocates.
Plus: 2016 has been an exciting year for HSC here in Chicago! Take a look at our Chicago-based 2016 milestones for healthy schools.