First Person

This week's healthy schools highlights

Cooking up change in Denver

Teens cooking at school.In just a few weeks, teams of aspiring chefs from high schools in Chicago, Denver, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Washington, DC and Winston-Salem will compete in the national finals of the Healthy Schools Campaign’s Cooking up Change healthy cooking contest in Washington, D.C. The students, who have all won their city’s local qualifying contest, will present healthy school lunches that meet high nutrition standards and many of the constraints faced in school food service.

Read more at the Healthy Schools Campaign.

LiveWell Colorado campaign targets obesity

Maren Stewart
, president and CEO
 of LiveWell Colorado, explains the newest campaign to fight obesity in Colorado – one that will have everyone looking in the mirror.

Most Colorado residents are quick to admit Colorado has an obesity problem, they just don’t recognize that problem as their own. In fact, according to the results of LiveWell Colorado’s statewide survey of 1,100 adults and focus groups of more than 100 mothers, many Coloradans have a difficult time accurately identifying overweight or obesity. Instead, they often associate the issue with images of the morbidly obese, as seen on TV shows like “The Biggest Loser.” To address these misperceptions, LiveWell Colorado is launching an unprecedented statewide advertising and community engagement campaign at the end of this month.

LiveWell Colorado’s “culture change” campaign includes Colorado’s – and the country’s – first ads that aim to de-stigmatize obesity, presenting the surprising commonness of the problem. The ads, which will first appear on the final Oprah Winfrey show on May 25, illustrate that overweight and obesity look like every day Coloradans—55 percent of Colorado adults are overweight or obese—and emphasize the issue is not about vanity or labeling, but long-term health. The ad’s call to action encourages viewers to visit the website to find out if they are at risk for an obesity-related disease and guides them to small steps they can take in order to live a healthier life.

LiveWell Colorado will support the ads with community engagement activities, primarily focused on Colorado mothers, as research shows mothers are the most likely to agree that they, as parents, are responsible for solving the obesity problem in Colorado.

Community activities will include: free cooking classes on how to eat healthy on a limited budget; a “gym-a-bago” that travels to events and neighborhood venues to demonstrate simple, free ways to get the family moving; healthy cooking demonstrations at schools and community gathering places; events that bring communities together to be active and “promotores” programs (health outreach workers) working within the Hispanic community to hold culturally competent classes on healthy eating and physical activity. To expand the reach of these activities, videos will be shared through social media and the LiveWell Colorado website.

Summer meals at school in Commerce City

Adams County School District 14 (Adams 14) is participating in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, which fills nutritional gaps throughout the summer months to ensure children get the nutritious meals they need.

Nutritious meals will be provided Monday through Friday at no charge to all children ages one to 18, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability. Additionally, adults living in the district can purchase breakfast for $1.50 and lunch for $2.50 throughout the Summer Food Service Program.

Anyone can participate. See the list of times and location. For more information, contact Cindy Veney, manager of nutrition services, at 303-853-7950 or via e-mail

Mapleton nurse honored as School Nurse of the Year

The Colorado Association of School Nurses selected Kelly Grenham as the 2011 School Nurse of the Year. This award is reserved for a candidate who demonstrates excellence in school nursing practice and leadership in school health. Grenham has been a nurse consultant in Mapleton Public Schools since 2004 through a partnership with The Children’s Hospital.

school nurse of the year“Kelly is an aggressive advocate of student health,” Jana Jones, school nurse consultant for Mapleton Public Schools wrote in Grenham’s nomination letter. “She understands the nuances of how a child’s health condition translates to the school arena and who needs to be involved in shaping a successful school experience. Kelly has successfully obtained her National Certification for School Nurses and is a terrific representative of what the certification stands for.”

The award will be officially presented on Friday, Nov. 4, at the CASN Fall Conference Annual Awards Banquet in Breckenridge.

A hero for healthy schools: Rainey Wikstrom

Rainey WikstromLast month, the Healthy Schools Campaign teamed up with Chicago Public Schools and the Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to present Heroes for Healthy Schools, a series to focus attention on the role everyone can play in ensuring that all children are able to succeed in school and live healthy lives. Readers across the country nominate people they saw making a difference for kids’ health at school and in the community.

Congrats to Coloradan Rainey Wikstrom, a wellness champion. Read more at the Healthy Schools Campaign. Read this story about Wikstrom in EdNews Parent.

Heritage Elem.: Fit 4 Colorado School Challenge winner

HIGHLANDS RANCH – The students at Heritage Elementary School in Highlands Ranch are celebrating. They were awarded the Fit 4 Colorado School Challenge for May on Thursday. Watch the CBS4 report.

First Person

I’ve spent years studying the link between SHSAT scores and student success. The test doesn’t tell you as much as you might think.

PHOTO: Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Proponents of New York City’s specialized high school exam, the test the mayor wants to scrap in favor of a new admissions system, defend it as meritocratic. Opponents contend that when used without consideration of school grades or other factors, it’s an inappropriate metric.

One thing that’s been clear for decades about the exam, now used to admit students to eight top high schools, is that it matters a great deal.

Students admitted may not only receive a superior education, but also access to elite colleges and eventually to better employment. That system has also led to an under-representation of Hispanic students, black students, and girls.

As a doctoral student at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2015, and in the years after I received my Ph.D., I have tried to understand how meritocratic the process really is.

First, that requires defining merit. Only New York City defines it as the score on a single test — other cities’ selective high schools use multiple measures, as do top colleges. There are certainly other potential criteria, such as artistic achievement or citizenship.

However, when merit is defined as achievement in school, the question of whether the test is meritocratic is an empirical question that can be answered with data.

To do that, I used SHSAT scores for nearly 28,000 students and school grades for all public school students in the city. (To be clear, the city changed the SHSAT itself somewhat last year; my analysis used scores on the earlier version.)

My analysis makes clear that the SHSAT does measure an ability that contributes to some extent to success in high school. Specifically, a SHSAT score predicts 20 percent of the variability in freshman grade-point average among all public school students who took the exam. Students with extremely high SHSAT scores (greater than 650) generally also had high grades when they reached a specialized school.

However, for the vast majority of students who were admitted with lower SHSAT scores, from 486 to 600, freshman grade point averages ranged widely — from around 50 to 100. That indicates that the SHSAT was a very imprecise predictor of future success for students who scored near the cutoffs.

Course grades earned in the seventh grade, in contrast, predicted 44 percent of the variability in freshman year grades, making it a far better admissions criterion than SHSAT score, at least for students near the score cutoffs.

It’s not surprising that a standardized test does not predict as well as past school performance. The SHSAT represents a two and a half hour sample of a limited range of skills and knowledge. In contrast, middle-school grades reflect a full year of student performance across the full range of academic subjects.

Furthermore, an exam which relies almost exclusively on one method of assessment, multiple choice questions, may fail to measure abilities that are revealed by the variety of assessment methods that go into course grades. Additionally, middle school grades may capture something important that the SHSAT fails to capture: long-term motivation.

Based on his current plan, Mayor de Blasio seems to be pointed in the right direction. His focus on middle school grades and the Discovery Program, which admits students with scores below the cutoff, is well supported by the data.

In the cohort I looked at, five of the eight schools admitted some students with scores below the cutoff. The sample sizes were too small at four of them to make meaningful comparisons with regularly admitted students. But at Brooklyn Technical High School, the performance of the 35 Discovery Program students was equal to that of other students. Freshman year grade point averages for the two groups were essentially identical: 86.6 versus 86.7.

My research leads me to believe that it might be reasonable to admit a certain percentage of the students with extremely high SHSAT scores — over 600, where the exam is a good predictor —and admit the remainder using a combined index of seventh grade GPA and SHSAT scores.

When I used that formula to simulate admissions, diversity increased, somewhat. An additional 40 black students, 209 Hispanic students, and 205 white students would have been admitted, as well as an additional 716 girls. It’s worth pointing out that in my simulation, Asian students would still constitute the largest segment of students (49 percent) and would be admitted in numbers far exceeding their proportion of applicants.

Because middle school grades are better than test scores at predicting high school achievement, their use in the admissions process should not in any way dilute the quality of the admitted class, and could not be seen as discriminating against Asian students.

The success of the Discovery students should allay some of the concerns about the ability of students with SHSAT scores below the cutoffs. There is no guarantee that similar results would be achieved in an expanded Discovery Program. But this finding certainly warrants larger-scale trials.

With consideration of additional criteria, it may be possible to select a group of students who will be more representative of the community the school system serves — and the pool of students who apply — without sacrificing the quality for which New York City’s specialized high schools are so justifiably famous.

Jon Taylor is a research analyst at Hunter College analyzing student success and retention. 

First Person

With roots in Cuba and Spain, Newark student came to America to ‘shine bright’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Layla Gonzalez

This is my story of how we came to America and why.

I am from Mallorca, Spain. I am also from Cuba, because of my dad. My dad is from Cuba and my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, and so on. That is what makes our family special — we are different.

We came to America when my sister and I were little girls. My sister was three and I was one.

The first reason why we came here to America was for a better life. My parents wanted to raise us in a better place. We also came for better jobs and better pay so we can keep this family together.

We also came here to have more opportunities — they do call this country the “Land Of Opportunities.” We came to make our dreams come true.

In addition, my family and I came to America for adventure. We came to discover new things, to be ourselves, and to be free.

Moreover, we also came here to learn new things like English. When we came here we didn’t know any English at all. It was really hard to learn a language that we didn’t know, but we learned.

Thank God that my sister and I learned quickly so we can go to school. I had a lot of fun learning and throughout the years we do learn something new each day. My sister and I got smarter and smarter and we made our family proud.

When my sister Amira and I first walked into Hawkins Street School I had the feeling that we were going to be well taught.

We have always been taught by the best even when we don’t realize. Like in the times when we think we are in trouble because our parents are mad. Well we are not in trouble, they are just trying to teach us something so that we don’t make the same mistake.

And that is why we are here to learn something new each day.

Sometimes I feel like I belong here and that I will be alright. Because this is the land where you can feel free to trust your first instinct and to be who you want to be and smile bright and look up and say, “Thank you.”

As you can see, this is why we came to America and why we can shine bright.

Layla Gonzalez is a fourth-grader at Hawkins Street School. This essay is adapted from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.