Making Chicago Schools Healthier with Play

  • September 16, 2016
Urban Initiatives

Healthy Schools Campaign—in partnership with the Office of Student Health and Wellness and with the support of various stakeholders—conducted a review of Chicago Public Schools’ 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 Urban Initiatives, an organization focusing on sports as a way to teach students leadership and life skills. Urban Initiatives started in one school in 2003 and has since expanded to 50 schools and more than 15,000 students. Urban Initiatives boosts students’ physical fitness, health education, academic engagement and character development with programs that include a soccer team, a recess program, a leadership program and more.

Urban Initiatives used their relationships with schools and programming to help schools meet the provisions of the district’s wellness policy—many of which fell outside its sports programming. Urban Initiatives helped guide these schools to form a wellness team, conduct an assessment of how well they are aligned with the policy, create an action plan to address gaps and report their progress to the district. Urban Initiatives was especially helpful in communicating the difference between physical education and physical activity. “We think about that all day because we’re a sports program,” says April Lillstrom, Program Partnerships Director & Senior Program Manager.

But Urban Initiatives also broadened the scope of their work from solely providing after school programming to helping schools implement high quality recess, which had just returned to the district after a decades-long absence.

Broadening the scope was not too difficult because of the lessons Urban Initiatives learned a few years back through a pilot program that was funded by Healthy Places. Urban Initiatives helped five schools implement recess while also helping schools achieve the healthy school certification. The certification included rigorous requirements of food and fitness in the HealthierUS School Challenge.

Thanks to dedicated partners like Urban Initiatives, more and more schools are getting the support they need to implement the wellness policy provisions.