As HSC works for policy change on a national level, we continue to pioneer new strategies with a special focus on Chicago schools and the health and wellness issues affecting the district’s primarily low-income minority students.
As HSC works for change on a national level, we remain grounded in a special focus on Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the health and wellness issues affecting the district’s primarily low-income minority students. This work is especially critical in light of the vast health disparities that exist in our nation.
To create change in Chicago, HSC works both at the system level with district leaders and at the community level with parents, teachers and many others. This unique approach means that our perspective is grounded in recognition of both community-level and system-level challenges and priorities.
At the heart of HSC’s work in Chicago is our effort to engage stakeholders—parents, teachers, students, principals and others—in creating healthier school environments.
For example, HSC’s Parents United for Healthy Schools coalition has engaged hundreds of parents in Chicago’s low-income Latino and African-American communities in training on health disparities, school wellness and the ways in which parents can create change at the school level. Parent leaders have formed wellness teams that are making health-promoting changes at more than 50 Chicago schools.
At the same time that HSC-trained parents have been making school-level change, they have also been successfully advocating for change at the district level.
For example, parents gathered thousands of petitions in support of recess and attended CPS board meetings to present the petitions in a strong show of support for bringing back recess. When parents started working on this issue, only 6 percent of CPS elementary schools offered recess. In 2012, recess returned to all elementary schools. HSC-trained parents played a strong role in advocating for this powerful change.
HSC has worked closely with Chicago Public Schools to transform the district’s school food program. The district began by making specific changes such as removing deep fryers from school kitchens and serving more whole grains. In 2010, CPS put in place new standards that significantly raise the bar for the nutritional content of school food. HSC advocated for these changes, served on the committee that developed these standards and is supporting their successful implementation.
Now, HSC is continuing to help the district improve its food with a focus on where and how food is grown and raised. HSC played a role in a recent decision to begin serving local unprocessed chicken raised without antibiotics and supported the district in growing its farm to school program to a new scale. These accomplishments mean that the more than 70 million school meals CPS serves each year are significantly more healthy, for children and for the environment. The lessons from this experience inform HSC’s national policy efforts.
To sustain this powerful transformation, schools need to have the capacity to support wellness. With this in mind, HSC continues the work of building support and connecting schools with resources that put policies into practice.
Following successful advocacy to bring back recess, for example, HSC talked with principals and teachers to identify challenges they face in implementing this policy. One of the main challenges they identified was a lack of trained volunteers to support the effort. Others mentioned a lack of space or problems with old, broken playground equipment. HSC, working with parent leaders, organized trainings to equip parents to serve as recess monitors. HSC is also exploring opportunities to create a comprehensive plan for improving play spaces for recess.
HSC’s efforts to transform the food and fitness environment in Chicago reached a new level with Go for the Gold, HSC’s partnership with Chicago Public Schools to support schools in meeting the HealthierUS School Challenge, a cornerstone of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. This recognition program sets high standards for food, fitness, nutrition education and more. Through Go for the Gold, HSC has supported 80+ schools in achieving this recognition, while more than 100 additional schools have initiated changes to meet the challenge.
The success of this project means more than 30,000 CPS students now benefit from healthier school food, increased physical activity and increased nutrition education. Tens of thousands of additional students are benefiting from the changes their schools are making toward meeting the HealthierUS School Challenge criteria. Learn more about Go for the Gold here.
Karen Atwood, President of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois and Terry Mazany, President and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, co-chair the civic and business group supporting this effort. This group brings together a group of talented, committed leaders and creates the space to make new connections, formulate innovative ideas and strategies, and encourage the emergence of city-wide support for a school environment that promotes healthy eating and physical activity for all children.
Gold Level Members
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois
The Chicago Community Trust
Silver Level Member
Michael Reese Health Trust
Bronze Level Member