First Person

This week's healthy schools highlights

typical snacks at Denver's University Park Elementary SchoolUniversity Park Elementary honored for health efforts

Denver’s University Park Elementary School will be honored Monday by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation for its efforts to curb childhood obesity.

Nationwide, 275 schools will be honored by the Alliance, which was founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation. President Clinton will present the awards at a Healthy Schools Forum in Little Rock, Ark. Read more in the Denver Post.

Kids get extra calories from food outside home

U.S. children are eating more, and the extra calories often come from foods eaten while they are away from home, according to a new study.

Overall, children eat about 179 more calories a day than children did three decades ago, says study researcher Jennifer M. Poti, a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Read all about it at WebMD.

Whole Foods Market’s new foundation focuses on kids’ health

Whole Foods Market has announced the creation of Whole Kids Foundation, a charitable organization that will provide children with access to healthy food choices through partnerships with schools, educators and organizations.

By supporting schools and inspiring families, the Foundation aims to help children reach optimal health through the strength of a healthy body fueled by nutritious food choices. Read more at Food Ingredients First.

Springs H.S. students get a dose of ‘health literacy’

One day in the not-too-distant future, Harrison High School students will walk into a business or English class and learn about something not obviously tied to the subject matter at hand: health.

In a partnership with El Paso County Public Health, Harrison officials hope to improve their students’ “health literacy” through a curriculum that will be integrated into courses beyond the usual health and PE classes. Read more in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Denver business execs focus on healthier kids at roundtable

A group of Denver-based CEOs told Mayor-elect Michael Hancock to focus his administration on the health and education of the city’s children at a roundtable discussion last week. That’s in addition to familiar pleas to cut red tape at city hall, abolish nuisance taxes and treat residents like customers — all suggestions offered at a meeting Hancock held on July 7 with some of the biggest names in the city’s business community. Read more in the Colorado Statesman.

soda bottles and cansSchool ban on soda has greatest impact on black students

State policies designed to eliminate junk food from school concession stands may be reducing disparities in soda consumption among teens of different racial and ethnic groups, a new study suggests.

The study finds that in states banning or discouraging the sale of junk food at schools’ concession stands, daily soda consumption has dropped by twice as much among black students as among all students. Read more at Live Science.

Mother-child bond takes stressful toll when kid has ADHD

Ever since the second day her son went to kindergarten, Penny Williams has worried about him. That’s the day Williams, a real estate broker in Asheville, N.C., got her first call from her child’s teacher. Luke wasn’t ready for school, the teacher told Williams. He couldn’t sit still and didn’t want to participate. The insinuation, Williams said, was that she had failed as a parent. Read more at MSNBC.

Midvalley clinic tackles kid obesity

While Colorado was the nation’s only state to have an obesity rate below 20 percent, according to a recent report, Glenn Kotz, a doctor in Basalt, noted that the study didn’t show the percentage of children who are overweight. Read more in the Aspen Daily News.

Back to school means making sure vaccinations are up to date

DENVER – As our kids get ready to start the school year, besides picking out clothes and backpacks, we often think of physicals, vaccinations, and other health requirements and recommendations. In preparation of going back to school, we are getting you educated on your children’s health. Watch the 9NEWS report.

Q&A: To vaccinate or not – what are the risks?

Some parents decide not to have their children receive one or more of the vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Read the Q&A in Newswise.

Health at birth linked to teen academic performance

Babies who get low scores on a test of heart, lung and brain function given just a few minutes after birth may be more likely to need special education as teenagers, suggests a new study from Sweden. Read this Reuters article.

Children of deployed soldiers struggle, UW study finds

An adolescent whose parent is sent on military deployments is more likely to have suicidal thoughts and feel depressed than the child of civilians, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health. Read more in the Tacoma News Tribune.

Five tips to help your child choose a healthy school lunch

A highlight of every school day is lunch. It’s a break in the day, a time to hang out with friends and a time to get some much-needed energy back into the body and brain. check out this story in Las Vegas Review-Journal.

porcupine slider sandwiches‘Porcupine sliders’ win school lunch contest

Porcupine Sliders, turkey burgers jazzed up with brown rice, spinach, celery, garlic spices and dried cranberries, captured the grand prize in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Recipes for Healthy Kids competition. Read more in Food Safety News.


First Person

I’ve been mistaken for the other black male leader at my charter network. Let’s talk about it.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

I was recently invited to a reunion for folks who had worked at the New York City Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was a privilege for me to have been part of that work, and it was a privilege for me to be in that room reflecting on our legacy.

The counterweight is that only four people in the room were black males. Two were waiters, and I was one of the remaining two. There were definitely more than two black men who were part of the work that took place in New York City during that era, but it was still striking how few were present.

The event pushed me to reflect again on the jarring impact of the power dynamics that determine who gets to make decisions in so-called education reform. The privileged end up being relatively few, and even fewer look like the kids we serve.

I’m now the chief operating officer at YES Prep, a charter school network in Houston. When I arrived at YES four years ago, I had been warned that it was a good old boys club. Specifically, that it was a good old white boys club. It was something I assessed in taking the role: Would my voice be heard? Would I truly have a seat at the table? Would I have any influence?

As a man born into this world with a black father and white mother, I struggled at an early age with questions about identity and have been asking those questions ever since.

As I became an adult, I came to understand that being from the suburbs, going to good schools, and being a lighter-skinned black person affords me greater access to many settings in America. At the same time, I experience my life as a black man.

Jeremy Beard, head of schools at YES, started the same day I did. It was the first time YES had black men at the leadership table of the organization. The running joke was that people kept mistaking Jeremy and me for each other. We all laughed about it, but it revealed some deeper issues that had pervaded YES for some time.

“Remember when you led that tour in the Rio Grande Valley to see schools?” a board member asked me about three months into my tenure.“That wasn’t me,” I replied. I knew he meant Jeremy, who had worked at IDEA in the Valley. At that time, I had never been to the Valley and didn’t even know where it was on the map.

“Yes, it was,” he insisted.

“I’ve never been to the Valley. It wasn’t me. I think you mean Jeremy.”

“No, it was you, don’t you remember?” he continued, pleading with me to recall something that never happened.

“It wasn’t me.”

He stopped, thought about it, confused, and uttered, “Huh.”

It is difficult for me to assign intent here, and this dynamic is not consistent with all board members. That particular person may have truly been confused about my identity. And sure, two black men may have a similar skin tone, and we may both work at YES. But my life experience suggests something else was at play. It reminds me that while I have the privilege of sitting at the table with our board, they, as board members, have the privilege of not having to know who I am, or that Jeremy and I are different black dudes.

It would be easy to just chalk this all up to racial politics in America and accept it as status quo, but I believe we can change the conversation on privilege and race by having more conversations on privilege and race. We can change the dynamics of the game by continuing to build awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We can also advocate to change who has seats at the table and whose voices will be heard.

I remain hopeful thanks to the changes I have witnessed during my time at YES. The board has been intentional in their efforts to address their own privilege, and is actively working to become more diverse and inclusive.

Personally, I have worked to ensure there are more people of color with seats at the table by mentoring future leaders of color at YES Prep and other black men in this work. Jeremy and I also created Brothers on Books, a book club for black men at YES to find mentorship and fellowship. Through this book club, we can create a safe space to have candid discussions based on literature we read and explore what it means to be black men at YES.

When I think about privilege, I am torn between the privilege that has been afforded to me and the jarring power dynamics that determine who gets to have conversations and make decisions in so-called education reform. White people are afforded more voices and seats at the table, making decisions that primarily impact children of color.

It is not lost on me that it is my own privilege that affords me access to a seat at the table. My hope is that by using my role, my voice and my privilege, I can open up dialogue, hearts, minds, opinions, and perceptions. I hope that readers are similarly encouraged to assess their own privileges and determine how they can create positive change.

Recy Benjamin Dunn is YES Prep’s chief operating officer, overseeing operations, district partnerships, and growth strategy for the charter school network. A version of this piece was first published on YES Prep’s blog.

First Person

I’m a Bronx teacher, and I see up close what we all lose when undocumented students live with uncertainty

The author at her school.

It was our high school’s first graduation ceremony. Students were laughing as they lined up in front of the auditorium, their families cheering them on as they entered. We were there to celebrate their accomplishments and their futures.

Next to each student’s name on the back of those 2013 graduation programs was the college the student planned to attend in the fall. Two names, however, had noticeable blanks next to them.

But I was especially proud of these two students, whom I’ll call Sofia and Isabella. These young women started high school as English learners and were diagnosed with learning disabilities. Despite these obstacles, I have never seen two students work so hard.

By the time they graduated, they had two of the highest grade point averages in their class. It would have made sense for them to be college-bound. But neither would go to college. Because of their undocumented status, they did not qualify for financial aid, and, without aid, they could not afford it.

During this year’s State of the Union, I listened to President Trump’s nativist rhetoric and I thought of my students and the thousands of others in New York City who are undocumented. President Trump falsely portrayed them as gang members and killers. The truth is, they came to this country before they even understood politics and borders. They grew up in the U.S. They worked hard in school. In this case, they graduated with honors. They want to be doctors and teachers. Why won’t we let them?

Instead, as Trump works to repeal President Obama’s broader efforts to enfranchise these young people, their futures are plagued by uncertainty and fear. A Supreme Court move just last week means that young people enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program remain protected but in limbo.

While Trump and the Congress continue to struggle to find compromise on immigration, we have a unique opportunity here in New York State to help Dreamers. Recently, the Governor Cuomo proposed and the state Assembly passed New York’s DREAM Act, which would allow Sofia, Isabella, and their undocumented peers to access financial aid and pursue higher education on equal footing with their documented peers. Republicans in the New York State Senate, however, have refused to take up this bill, arguing that New York state has to prioritize the needs of American-born middle-class families.

This argument baffles me. In high school, Sofia worked hard to excel in math and science in order to become a radiologist. Isabella was so passionate about becoming a special education teacher that she spent her free periods volunteering with students with severe disabilities at the school co-located in our building.

These young people are Americans. True, they may not have been born here, but they have grown up here and seek to build their futures here. They are integral members of our communities.

By not passing the DREAM Act, it feels like lawmakers have decided that some of the young people that graduate from my school do not deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. I applaud the governor’s leadership, in partnership with the New York Assembly, to support Dreamers like Sofia and Isabella and I urge Senate Republicans to reconsider their opposition to the bill.

Today, Sofia and Isabella have been forced to find low-wage jobs, and our community and our state are the poorer for it.

Ilona Nanay is a 10th grade global history teacher and wellness coordinator at Mott Hall V in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators for Excellence – New York.