In addition to Poverty is Real, the Atlanta-based non-profit organization I’m a board member of, Healthy Schools Campaign is a non-profit that’s close to my heart. This is an organization I became aware of while I was in grad school in the Chicago area, and I’ve enjoyed keeping tabs on it from afar in the years since.
The group was established to help combat many of the challenges facing Chicago schools from a health perspective — namely environmental- and food-related limitations. Here’s an excerpt from HSC’s mission statement:
We prepare school stakeholders — students, parents, teachers, school nurses, administrators, community members and others — to become leaders in efforts to create change at the school, district, state and national levels.
By working with this diverse group of stakeholders, we advocate for change in the school environment and raise awareness of the ways that the air children breathe, the food they eat and the opportunities they have to be physically active shape their health and learning for a lifetime.
As is the case in many urban public schools, factors such as food deserts, outdated facilities, and cafeteria meals that just don’t cut it from a nutritional standpoint are common issues. Healthy Schools Campaign was created as a way to help address these problems by bringing together people who can help generate true and lasting change.
These days, due in large part to the efforts of HSC, Chicago students are eating more healthfully at school, thanks to partnerships with local farms and an emphasis placed on keeping ingredients as fresh and wholesome as possible.
For the past few years, HSC has hosted an event called Cooking Up Change. To participate in this innovative event, schools form several small teams of students-turned-chefs. Faced with real-world school lunch budgets and limited access to ingredients, each team develops a healthy and delicious school lunch to submit. Once each school has determined its winning team, the semi-finalists travel to Washington, D.C. to compete for the title of Cooking Up Change champion. Since the event began, it’s caught on across the country and now there’s both a Chicago contest and a national contest. (There’s even a Winston-Salem team headed to D.C. this year!)
Here’s this year’s Cooking Up Change promo video:
HSC is keeping tabs on the air quality at schools as well, to help ensure students aren’t exposed to allergens or harmful particles during school activities and recess. Plus, principals and teachers are given the resources they need to help make wellness a priority at their schools.
And not only are students and administrators benefiting from HSC programs — these students’ parents and their families have access to exercise and cooking classes in the hopes that these healthy habits will extend into the home.
If all goes as planned, HSC will be able to establish techniques and benchmark information that will make it possible to implement similar student wellness-focused programs in other U.S. cities.