Making Progress in a Challenging Year

  • December 14, 2017
Student At Wadsworth Elementary In Chicago Looking At Camera

By Rochelle Davis, President + CEO

While this has been a challenging year, we’ve made great progress on making sure that all students have access to healthy school environments where they can learn and thrive.

At the end of last year, I reflected on our new political landscape and what we would have to do as an organization to continue to advocate for student health and wellness. I’m proud of what we’ve done this year to hold our public officials accountable, stand firm for what we believe in, be proud and vocal about our commitment to equity and take advantage of opportunities that have presented themselves for supporting student health and wellness.

The foundation of our work has always been ensuring that all students can learn and thrive, and we’ve continued to pursue that end through our deep on-the-ground work in Chicago and our efforts at the state and national level.

We successfully advocated for health-promoting changes in Chicago Public Schools’ new wellness policy.
Over the summer, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) adopted a new wellness policy, which covers food and fitness for the district’s 380,000 students. The newly adopted policy includes a number of provisions that advance the health and wellness of students. The policy strengthens school food policy, increases access to nutritious foods, restricts junk food marketing, and promotes healthy classrooms and schools. This new policy raises the bar for healthy school environments for all students in CPS. We are now working with schools to ensure they can implement the policy.

We helped students raise their voices about healthy school food.
While the administration has rolled back standards for school food, we’ve continued to raise the voices of student chefs who understand why healthy school food is so important. As part of the Cooking up Change program, we brought teams of student chefs from across the country to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national finals and meet with their legislators. Overall, 19 meetings were set up with legislators and their staff. These meetings help students share their experiences cooking healthy school meals and make sure their voices are front and center in the debate about school food.

We grew the movement for green cleaning in schools.
In September, we held the Green Clean Schools Track, the official education track at ISSA/INTERCLEAN. It was our most well-attended Green Clean Schools event yet! The Green Clean Schools Track is an integral part of our work to build a strong network of school facility directors who are advancing green cleaning in their schools and in the industry. With this event it’s official; the network is growing faster than ever before. These school facility directors take the lessons they learn back to their schools and continue to grow the movement.

We worked with states to help them ensure that health and wellness are built into schools.
Throughout the year, we’ve been working with states to help them capitalize on the opportunities presented in the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), to support student health and wellness. Our work helps ensure that school environments are supportive of student health and wellness and supports schools in leveraging data to ensure struggling students can be helped.

We worked to increase access to school health services for students that need them the most.
School health services—including physical, mental, dental, vision and behavioral services—can serve as powerful supports for education. To rethink the way health services are delivered in schools, we brought together a group of 15 states, including Illinois, in a national learning collaborative to create plans that increase access to comprehensive and coordinated care schools.

We monitored and responded to the threats and opportunities.
We started the year by hosting a breakfast discussion about the future of the health and education policy landscape. We brought together health and education leaders to talk about the threats and opportunities to health and education policy. We released a report that looked at how the administration had acted on the opportunity to support student health and wellness in its first 100 days. We’ve responded as the administration has enacted harsh immigration policies, threatened children’s healthcare, cut funding for traditional public schools, announced roll backs on school food standards and withdrew protections for transgender students, among other things.

All signs point to 2018 being another challenging year. We’ll continue to engage the community in our work to create healthy school environments, advocate for policies that support our children’s health and build capacity to ensure the progress we make is sustainable. As we look forward to 2018, we are excited about:

  • Working with stakeholders in 15 states across the nation, including Illinois, and in the city of Chicago to build effective new systems to provide school health services that help children learn.
  • Breaking ground on new green schoolyards in Chicago that give children outdoor space to play, learn, grow healthy food and learn about the environment.
  • Hosting Cooking up Change contests in cities around the country and giving hundreds of students a chance to show that healthy school food can be delicious.
  • Helping parents, teachers and principals continue to push and encourage their schools to become healthy places where children can learn, grow and thrive.