The Other 60 Percent

Six small districts win healthy kids grants

The first time staff in the tiny rural Bethune School District in eastern Colorado tried to explain to youngsters that French fries would not count toward the veggie category on the food pyramid, they were met with blank stares.

Equally vacant stares met them when pomegranates and kiwis were introduced to a few lunch menus in the 131-student school district near the Kansas border.

Not anymore. Students are now used to logging the foods they eat on MyPyramid.gov website. Most of them don’t bat an eye at the new physical education requirements or the constant chatter among teachers about the ongoing “My Biggest Loser” contest. They’re used to no butter anywhere in sight and whole wheat lunch rolls and the fact they need three physical education credits to graduate from high school.

Today, the Colorado Department of Education announced that Bethune and five other small districts will receive $20,000 over two years from the Colorado Legacy Foundation via the Colorado Health Foundation. Founded in 2007, the Legacy Foundation is governed by an independent board of trustees that develops initiatives to support the Colorado Department of Education’s initiatives in innovation, entrepreneurship, 21st-century teaching and learning and the dissemination of best practices.

A tight budget prompted Bethune Superintendent Shila Adolf to go for the Healthy Kids Learn Better grant. The CDE, which requires all district have health and wellness plans in place, awarded $160,000 in grants to 10 small and large districts. The money will be available to districts March 5.

Adolf said she believes strongly in kids and staff staying healthy. She personally has lost 14 pounds since August. All told, the 18  “Biggest Loser” participants lost a combined 137 pounds. The system was tweaked, though, when it became clear nobody wanted the thin staffers on their teams.

Now, body mass index is calculated into a point system as well. Some of the Legacy dollars will pay for rewards such as Safeway gift cards and school spirit gear for winners. One of the goals is to reduce the district’s health insurance premiums. Teachers are encouraged to go on walks during breaks and are supplied with pedometers and water bottles. Together, they take Latin Zumba classes taught by a district teacher.

The school now gives students choices of food rather than dumping it on a plate for them. Seventy percent of the school’s children qualify for free and reduced price lunch. And 94 percent of those youth participate in the federally funded lunch program.

“(Students) are choosing fresh vegetables more often,” Adolf said. “We removed students’ ability to have seconds on the main entrée. They can only have seconds on fruits and vegetables. For a while, the kids thought the lunch ladies were so mean. But once we showed them the right serving size for their age, they found out they had been eating two to three times that amount.”

“Now, I think they’re very excited about it.”

Adolf has a personal goal to lose another 30 pounds.

This is exactly the sort of innovation the Colorado Legacy Foundation is trying to support through the $868,080 it received last summer from the Colorado Health Foundation. The one- and two-year grants are designed to improve student achievement by implementing best practices related to nutrition, physical education, health education, school-based health and workplace wellness for students and staff.

“Healthy students and academic achievement go hand in hand,” said Helayne Jones, executive director of the Colorado Legacy Foundation. “The Colorado Health Foundation’s latest health report card documents that Colorado continues to fall behind in important areas affecting children’s health.”

All 10 school districts will use the Legacy Foundation’s 2009 Best Practices Guide to assist them with their health and wellness programs. Available here, the guide is the second in a series of annual best practices published by the Colorado Legacy Foundation in collaboration with the CDE.

Grant recipients can use the money to pay for costs associated with conducting the completion of the Best Practices Guide checklist and implementing the Best Practices Guide plan including classroom education, program activities, equipment; training, staff wellness programs, policy development, school or district team meetings and stipends.

In the Boulder Valley, Interim Director of Nutrition Services Ann Cooper plans to use the money to boost the number of students who eat school-made lunches. Right now, about a third of the district’s 26,000 students participate. She’d like at least half of them to eat at school so economies of scale work in her advantage when budgeting for food purchases.

Cooper said she plans to get cooks to give samples of lunch menu items – say, chicken quesadillas – to students a day or two before they’re really on the menu so they might pick up a tray the day they’re served. Cooper said it’s great when parents pack healthy lunches but not all of them do.

“A lot of parents may not know what healthy food is. We see kids with Lunchables and things like that.”

Julie Poppen can be reached at jpoppen@frii.com.

Districts awarded $10,000 per year for two years:

Bethune School District – Nutrition, health education, physical activity and employee wellness

Campo School District RE-6 – – Nutrition and employee wellness

Durango School District 9-R – Health education and employee wellness

East Grand School District – Nutrition and employee wellness

Elizabeth C-1 School District – Health education and physical activity

Monte Vista C-8 School District – Health education, nutrition, physical activity and employee wellness

Districts receiving $10,000 for one year:

Boulder Valley School District – Nutrition

Colorado Springs School District 11 – Coordinated school health

Thompson School District – Employee wellness

Weld County School District 6 – Nutrition

#WontBeErased

Denver school board pledges to make sure LGBTQ students are ‘seen, accepted, and celebrated’

PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Ellie Ozbayrak, 4, sports rainbow wings at the annual PrideFest celebration at Civic Center Park June 18, 2016.

In response to reports that the Trump administration may seek to narrowly define gender as a condition determined by genitalia at birth, the Denver school board Thursday unanimously adopted a resolution in support of transgender students and staff members.

“The board, with its community members and partners, find this federal action to be cruel and harmful to our students and employees,” the resolution said. Denver Public Schools “will not allow our students, staff, and families to feel that they are being erased.”

The Trump administration has not yet made a final decision. But the threat of reversing actions taken under the Obama administration to recognize transgender Americans has prompted protests across the country, including a recent walkout at Denver’s North High School.

Several Denver students thanked the school board Thursday for the resolution, which says the board “wholeheartedly embraces DPS’s LGBTQ+ students, employees, and community members for the diversity they bring to our schools and workplaces, and strives to ensure that they are seen, accepted, and celebrated for who they truly are.”

“It is amazing to hear each and every single one of your ‘ayes,’” said a student named Skyler.

The resolution lists several ways the district supports transgender students and staff, including not requiring them “to undertake any expensive formal legal process to change their names in DPS student or personnel records” and honoring their pronoun preferences.

Read the entire resolution below.

making moves

In New York, a new focus on housing could also spur more diversity in schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
In 2016, the Community Education Council in Manhattan's District 3 approved a controversial school rezoning aimed in part at integrating schools.

On a recent morning in Brooklyn, principals, parents, and education leaders from across the state gathered to drill into the root causes of school segregation and develop plans to spur more diversity. Joining the discussion was someone unexpected: a representative from the state’s Fair and Equitable Housing Office.

“We want to see within your districts, what your challenges are, what your ideas are,” said Nadya Salcedo, the office’s director. “You can’t talk about integration and segregation without talking about housing.”

It is often taken as a given that schools are segregated because neighborhoods are. Yet the twin challenges of integrating where children live and learn are rarely tackled in tandem. In New York, two recent moves have the potential to address both.

The first: State education leaders who are working with local districts to craft school integration plans are also inviting housing officials to the table early on — and plan to include them throughout the process.

The second: In New York City, housing officials have launched a tiny pilot program to help low-income renters move into neighborhoods that offer more opportunities, defined partly by school performance. The initiative isn’t meant to tackle school segregation directly, but if it grows, it could result in more diverse classrooms.

Both are small and unconnected, involving officials from different agencies. Details about both the state and city efforts are scant, for now. But taken together, they suggest a new energy toward tackling housing issues that are often a barrier to more integrated schools.

“There have been some ripples of hope out there,” said Fred Freiberg, executive director of the Fair Housing Justice Center. “But we still have a long ways to go.”

The meeting in Brooklyn brought together school district leaders who have been armed with a state grant to help improve schools by integrating them. Now, housing officials have been looped into that work to brainstorm how to collaborate.

The housing department “is working to help desegregate communities,” spokeswoman Charni Sochet wrote in an email. “This includes working with our federal, State and local partners.”

Similarly, the city began its housing pilot this summer but didn’t share details until this week, when the Wall Street Journal profiled the program. The 45 families in the program’s first phase are getting assistance searching for a new home — including rent vouchers that are worth more in wealthier neighborhoods, financial counseling to help them afford a move, and support navigating the intimidating New York City housing market.

“The mayor’s education and housing plans take dead aim at achievement and economic gaps decades in the making,” Jaclyn Rothenberg, a city spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “All students benefit from diverse classrooms. Neighborhoods benefit from a diverse community.”

The pilot is striking given what Mayor Bill de Blasio has said about housing in the city in the past. When asked how he plans to tackle school segregation, he has often argued that the city’s power is limited because schools reflect entrenched housing patterns and private choices by families about where to live. “We cannot change the basic reality of housing in New York City,” he said in 2017.

Families with rental vouchers often find it difficult to move out of segregated neighborhoods where schools tend to struggle under the weight of concentrated poverty. The city’s pilot could tackle those issues.

“At least now I’ll have a chance to apply to some of these apartments,” one participant, the mother of a 10- and 12-year-old, told the Wall Street Journal. “I’m moving to a better school district, and nothing else matters.”

In places such as Baltimore, similar “mobility” programs have included a sharp focus on helping families move to areas with better schools, and making sure that students adjust well to their new classrooms. On a wide scale, such efforts could create more diverse neighborhoods and learning environments, since income tracks closely with race and ethnicity — and schools with high test scores are often filled with white students and those from more affluent families.

It could also have profound effects on how children perform academically and later in life. Moving to a neighborhood with lower poverty rates can boost college attendance and future earnings, according to some of the most influential research on the topic.

Montgomery County, Maryland offers another example, where the housing commission randomly assigned families to public housing instead of letting them choose where to live. There, children in public housing who went to “advantaged” schools in less impoverished neighborhoods did better in math and reading than their peers who lived in public housing but attended the district’s least-advantaged schools, according to a report by the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

That result hews to a growing body of research that has found that students benefit from attending schools that are integrated by race and socioeconomic class.

How the city implements its pilot will matter if students and schools are to benefit most. Although some studies have found that housing programs can improve affected students’ academic performance, the effect can be modest and vary greatly depending on where families relocate and which schools their children attend.

New York City presents some additional challenges. With a vast system of school choice and programs that selectively sort students based on their past academic performance, students and neighborhoods aren’t as closely linked here as they are in other cities.

Recent research found New York City schools might be slightly less segregated if students actually stayed in their neighborhood schools. And simply living near a school does not guarantee access in cases where competitive entrance criteria are used to admit students — a process called screening that critics say contributes to segregation. School attendance boundaries can also separate students by race and class even when they live side by side, a dynamic exemplified by recent rezoning battles on the Upper West Side and in gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhoods.

In New York, the scale of the challenge is huge: The city has one of the most segregated school systems in the country, an ignominious superlative that also applies to neighborhoods. The politics of unraveling these issues can be explosive. Many advocates for both fair housing and more diverse schools caution that policies should work both ways, giving low-income families and people of color the chance to leave under-resourced schools and neighborhoods, while also boosting investments in classrooms and communities that have been historically neglected.

“It shouldn’t be an either-or,” said Freiberg, the Fair Housing Justice Center director. “You’re going to have to do both.”

Though conversations seem to just be getting started, integration advocates and housing experts are heartened by the small steps already taken.

“This is a dream come true for people in the housing world,” said Vicki Been, a former city housing official who is now faculty director at the New York University Furman Center. “We have always been looking for ways to get families into neighborhoods that have better schools, lower crimes, better job opportunities.”

Reema Amin contributed reporting.