First Person

This week's healthy schools highlights

Jamie OliverQ&A with Jamie Oliver about the ‘Food Revolution’

Like Jamie Oliver or hate him, there are not a lot of celebrity chefs doing what he’s doing right now – going on television to tell Americans that they’re fat and the way schools feed their kids is shameful. Read it in the Chicago Tribune.

CDC: More risky behaviors among gay high school students

One of the first and largest national studies of the behaviors of American high school students finds that those who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual are more likely than their heterosexual peers to take unhealthy risks. Read more in US News & World Report.

‘Let’s Move’ initiative underway in Indian Country

PHOENIX – Some people in Indian Country are addressing the obesity problem by simply moving. Read more in the Native Times.

Brighton forbids school staff from recommending psychotropic drugs

BRIGHTON – Brighton School District 27J says it has tightened existing policy forbidding teachers and administrators from recommending psychiatric drugs for students after a watchdog group complained. Read more in the Denver Post.

Lafayette Elementary students Lining up to plant school garden.Aurora’s fifth block students learn about gardening

More than 60 students from Boston and Crawford elementary schools took part in an exerciseabout gardening last week at the Beeler Street Community Garden. Read more in Your Hub.

Childhood trauma linked to higher rates of mental health problems and obesity

STANFORD, Calif. — New research has shown that children’s risk for learning and behavior problems and obesity rises in correlation to their level of trauma exposure, says the psychiatrist at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital who oversaw the study. The findings could encourage physicians to consider diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder rather than attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which has similar symptoms to PTSD but very different treatment. Read all about it in the Health News Digest.

Culinary camp moves school cafeterias toward fresh meals

School may be out for kids, but class is in session for food services staff members in Colorado Springs School District 11 participating in a Cook for America Culinary Boot Camp at Coronado High School.

“We’re not just opening bags of lettuce, we’re cooking for people’s most prized possession — their children,” said Denise Wojcik, kitchen manager at Trailblazer Elementary School. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

LiveWell Colorado’s plan to expand Go, Slow, Whoa! gets national honor

A LiveWell Colorado-developed business plan designed to expand the Go, Slow, Whoa program from eight Colorado schools to 258 is one of six finalists in a national competition aimed at helping nonprofits grow programs with potential.

The 2011 Business Plan Competition, sponsored by The Social Impact Exchange, required U.S.-based social sector nonprofits to outline and submit comprehensive business plans for scaling already-in-progress initiatives to serve a larger audience. If chosen as one of two winners, LiveWell Colorado will receive financial and consulting awards to support the Go, Slow, Whoa expansion.

For more information about Go, Slow, Whoa, click here.

Summer food program feeds hungry kids at area schools

DENVER – Hungry kids across the state have a place to turn this summer, thanks to food service programs working out of schools in many districts. 

In Denver, for instance, kids can get a free breakfast and lunch at about 40 school sites. Kids ages one to 18 eat for free five days a week.

“Definitely, there’s a financial benefit,” said mother Susette Balderas. Check out FOX31.

USDA encouraging wider use of summer food program

The United States Department of Agriculture has made it easier for organizations to access funds to feed children in low-income areas during the summer, officials said on Tuesday. Read more at Reuters.

U.S. schools serving healthier lunches, but falling short in P.E.

A new study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Bridging the Gap, reveals middle and high schools across the country are making a concerted effort to provide healthier lunch options for their students.

Thanks to the National School Lunch Program, schools are providing more fruits and vegetables and less processed and frozen foods. However, despite the increase in healthier meals, students are still not given adequate time for physical activity during and after school.

Some of the key findings from the study include:

  • Although virtually all schools offered vegetables and fresh fruits some days or most/every day, the same was also true for pizza.
  • Compared with the previous school year, more students were offered whole grains and fewer were offered french fries as part of the National School Lunch Program.
  • More than one-half of secondary students had access to snacks like candy, chips, cookies and ice cream through the National School Lunch Program.
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages were available to 71 percent of middle school and 92 percent of high school students in vending machines, à la carte lines, stores or snack bars on campus.
  • Physical education was required for some part of the school year for 83 percent of middle school and only 35 percent of high school students.
  • Participation in interscholastic and intramural physical activity programs was low, especially among students at less affluent schools and schools that had a majority Black or Latino student body.

One of the more shocking pieces of information revealed in the study identified that schools and districts with students at an increased risk for obesity (based on economic status, race or ethnicity) were less likely to have a wellness policy in place.

Chefs Move to Schools celebrated in Texas

FRESNO, Calif. – Hundreds of chefs and culinary professionals converged on the south steps of the Texas State Capitol this week to mark the first anniversary of Chefs Move to Schools (CMTS).  This celebration also marked the creation of a new grant program for CMTS, administered by The Culinary Trust, the philanthropic arm of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, with initial funding from the California Table Grape Commission. Read more in the PR Newswire.

Manitou, other districts awarded funds for health programs

Manitou Springs School District 14 and five other Colorado school districts on Thursday were awarded funds to advance best practices in health and wellness.

The Colorado Legacy Foundation will give $120,000 over two years to the districts as part of an initiative that also provides guidance, financial resources and technical assistance. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

 

First Person

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Grace Tatter covers a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol in 2015.

For three years, I covered the Statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee, reporting on how policies from Nashville trickled down into more than 1,800 public schools across the state.

Now I’m starting back to school myself, pursuing graduate studies aimed at helping me to become a better education journalist. I’m taking with me six things I learned on the job about public education in Tennessee.

1. Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.

I heard from hundreds of parents, educators, and students who were passionate about what’s happening — good and bad — inside of schools. I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.

2. Tennessee has one of the most fascinating education stories in America.

I’ve had a front-row seat to massive changes in K-12 education under reforms ushered in by Race to the Top — an overhaul being tracked closely well beyond the state’s borders. But the national interest and import doesn’t end with changes stemming from the $500 million federal award. Tennessee is home to some of the nation’s premier education researchers, making its classrooms laboratories for new ideas about pre-K, school turnaround, and literacy instruction, just to name a few. And at the legislature, more lobbyists are devoted to education than to most any other cause. A lot of eyes are on Tennessee schools.

3. The education community is not as divided as it looks.

During the course of just a few years, I watched state lawmakers change their positions on accountability and school vouchers. I witnessed “anti-charter” activists praise charter leaders for their work. I chronicled task force meetings where state leaders who were committed to standardized testing found middle ground with classroom educators concerned that it’s gone too far. In short, a lot of people listened to each other and changed their minds. Watching such consensus-building reminded me that, while there are no simple debates about education, there is a widespread commitment to making it better.

4. Money matters.

Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools.

5. Race is a significant education issue, but few leaders are willing to have that conversation.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee’s schools are largely racially segregated. Yet most policymakers tread lightly, if ever, into conversations about achieving real racial integration. And in many cases — such as a 2011 law enabling mostly white suburban Shelby County towns to secede from the mostly black Memphis district — they’ve actually gone backwards. Then there’s the achievement data. The annual release of test scores unleashes a flurry of conversation around the racial achievement gap. But the other 11 months of the year, I heard little about whether state and local policies are closing those gaps — or contributing to them — or the historical reasons why the gaps exist in the first place. To be sure, state leadership is trying to address some of Tennessee’s shortcomings. For example, the State Department of Education has launched modestly funded initiatives to recruit more teachers of color. But often, race and racism are the elephants in the room.

6. Still, there’s lots to celebrate.

If there were unlimited hours in the day, I could have written thousands of stories about what’s going right in public education. Every day, I received story ideas about collaborations with NASA in Oak Ridge, high school trips to Europe from Memphis, gourmet school lunches in Tullahoma, and learning partnerships with the Nashville Zoo. Even in schools with the steepest challenges, they were stories that inspire happiness and hope. They certainly inspired me.

Grace Tatter graduated from public schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., and received her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in specialized studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

First Person

I’m a Houston geography teacher. This is my plan for our first day back — as soon as it arrives

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Texas Military Department
Texas National Guard soldiers arrive in Houston, Texas to aid citizens in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey has upended so many things here in Houston, where I am starting my third year as a teacher. One of them is the lesson I am planning for the first day of school — as soon as it arrives.

This upheaval is nothing compared to what people across the city have faced, including my students, who have been sending me photos of evacuation boats going past their houses.

But it is fundamental to the task of being a teacher at a time of crisis. As an A.P. Human Geography teacher, my job is to help students make connections between the geography concepts we are learning in class and their real lives: Does Houston look like the models of urban development we study? Does their family history include a migration?

Before the storm, my thinking went like this: I am white and was born in England and most of my students are Hispanic, many with parents who were born in other countries. I was excited for us to share and compare our different stories. My students last year were shocked and fascinated when they discovered that my white, middle-aged father who is a university professor was applying for a green card, just as many of their family members were.

Now, Hurricane Harvey has underlined for me the importance of those real-world connections. As I looked at the photos from my students, I was struck by how geography concepts can affect us in very real — even life-threatening — ways.

I had planned to teach a lesson at the end of the year about how urbanization affects the environment. The lesson looks at how urbanization can exacerbate flooding: for example, how paving over grassy areas can increase the speed with which rain reaches the bayous, causing the water levels to rise faster. I would then have students evaluate different policies cities can adopt to mitigate that risk, such as encouraging the building on brownfield rather than greenfield sites and passing laws to protect farmland — options that have significant benefits but also significant costs.

I have decided to move this lesson up in the curriculum and teach it when we have school again. School is scheduled to start again on Tuesday, though at this stage everything is provisional, as each hour we find out about more families that have had their homes destroyed by the rising waters. It is still unclear how all our staff, let alone students, will get to school.

I am worried that the lesson could re-traumatize students who have experienced so much trauma in the past few days. I know I will need to make an active effort to make students feel comfortable stepping into the hall if they are feeling overwhelmed. However, my experiences with the recent presidential election make me think that this lesson is exactly what some students might need.

After the election, many students were genuinely confused about what had happened. One question in particular was on their minds: How you can you win the popular vote but not the election? We talked through the Electoral College together, and having clarity about what had happened and why it happened seemed to give them a firmer foundation to build on as they processed their emotions. I am hopeful that teaching about flooding will help ground them in a similar way.

This lesson about flooding was once simply another lesson in the curriculum, but now it has taken on a new urgency. In moments of disaster, it is easy to feel powerless; I certainly could not help the people I saw posting on Facebook that they were been on hold with 911 for hours while standing on their roofs.

Yet teachers have a unique power — the power to shape the minds of future generations to solve the problems that we face. Houston’s location means that it will always be susceptible to flooding. But by teaching about the flood I hope I can play a small role in helping our city avoid repeating some of the tragic scenes I witnessed this week.

Alex McNaughton teaches history and geography at YES Prep Southeast in Houston.

Looking to help? YES Prep is collecting donations to support its students and their families. Houston ISD and KIPP Houston are also soliciting donations for their students.