How We Made Chicago Schools Healthier in 2016

  • December 15, 2016
16 1004 0731 Corkery Blog

By Rochelle Davis, President + CEO

Each and every year, Healthy Schools Campaign works to incorporate health and wellness into every aspect of the school experience and make Chicago schools healthy places for students to learn. With the transition to the Trump Administration, this work is as important as ever. For the last eight years, we have been fortunate to have a First Lady leading the charge to transform the school food and fitness environment. The new Administration will likely create challenges for us as we strive to address many issues that are central to our mission of making schools healthier places for all students. We need to come together to make sure that the gains we have made in Chicago schools are sustained and that our schools continue to support health and wellness so that students are healthy and ready to learn.

We reached important milestones with two of our programs, made advances in other areas and initiated some new efforts.

Cooking up Change 10th Anniversary

We were so excited to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Cooking up Change this year! When I think about where we started and how far we’ve come since the first competition in 2007, I am humbled. We launched Cooking up Change in 2007. Since then, more than 750 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students have participated in the program and millions of Cooking up Change meals have been served in schools. But Cooking up Change is about so much more than the food. Cooking up Change serves up life-changing opportunities, helps students realize their own potential and puts student voices front and center in the national dialogue about school food.

The flagship Chicago competition kicks off the national season, where students from cities across the country develop incredible recipes for a national stage. Student chefs in Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Oakland and Orange County are getting ready to develop recipes for competition, and the winning team from Chicago is hard at working perfecting their presentation.

Parents United for Healthy Schools 10 Anniversary

This year, we also celebrated 10 years of Parents United for Healthy Schools. For the past decade, Parents United has been a leading force in creating healthy school environments through organized parent leadership. This parent-led movement advocates to create a better future for all Chicago children by working together with schools to create healthy environments that support student learning.

Since 2006, Parents United has been at the forefront of ensuring that district wellness policies are enacted at each school. From stronger nutrition standards, to restrictions on junk food, to the return of daily recess and physical education, school health is improving. But there is still work to do! It’s been 10 years since we started this work, and there are many accomplishments to celebrate.

Transforming Schoolyards through Space to Grow

Together with Openlands, HSC is leading Space to Grow: Greening Chicago’s Schoolyards, an innovative program to transform Chicago schoolyards into centers of school and community life where children can be physically active, learn about the environment, enjoy green space and grow healthful food. 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 storm water management needs. This year, we built schoolyards at Daniel J. Corkery Elementary School, James Wadsworth Elementary School and Gunsaulus Elementary Scholastic Academy.

Advocated for a New Chief Health Officer at CPS

Since Dr. Stephanie Whyte stepped down as the district’s first-ever chief health officer, we have been advocating for the district to fill this important position. The Chief Health Officer position dually reports to the City of Chicago Department of Public Health and CPS. This leadership position is critical to executing city agency and cross-departmental collaboration and meeting CPS policy requirements that emphasize stakeholder engagement within city agencies and the public.

We were thrilled when CPS hired Dr. Ken Fox as chief health officer last month. So far, Dr. Fox has been able to attend a Space to Grow ribbon cutting ceremony and speak at our 10th annual Parents Leadership Summit. We look forward to a long and productive relationship.

Launched the Student Health Access Collaborative

We launched the Student Health Access Collaborative earlier this month. This group has come together around a shared vision to ensure that every CPS student will have access to school health services, and that these services will be coordinated with their primary care provider by building the school health infrastructure among providers and intermediaries. Health services include physical, behavioral and mental, and sexual health services, as well as dental and vision, prevention, screening and disease management. It also includes acute and urgent care as well as case management. To achieve this goal, the school health infrastructure in Chicago will need to be improved. The school health infrastructure needs to have the capacity to share data, distribute resources in an equitable way and be sustainable. We’re excited to add this important initiative to our other work so students are healthy, in school and ready to learn.

Making School Food Healthier

HSC continues to transform the school food to include more wholesome, less processed food.  This year, HSC focused on codifying the many changes CPS has made to improve the school food program into a clear and accessible school food policy. Integrating improvements to the school meal program into a publicly available policy statement is important to ensuring the sustainability of the improvements. To do that, the School Food Advisory Group was reconvened and is hard at work developing a robust food policy that articulates the values and goals of the school meal program. Look for more details in 2017!

As we enter into 2017, the political landscape is new and uncertain. The campaign that just ended left many of us in Chicago feeling vulnerable. Healthy Schools Campaign believes in and stands for equity. We will speak up and stand firm to support the values of equity and opportunity that have defined our work for the past decade.