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 [email protected].

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 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.