First Person

This week's healthy schools highlights

Chula Vista, Calif., schools fight obesity

When a Chula Vista teacher proposed weighing the kids in her school district she didn’t expect to find an obesity epidemic that outpaced the nation’s. KPBS education reporter Kyla Calvert tells us about the study and what the city’s elementary schools are doing to fight the trend. Watch this YouTube video.

Denver’s school food workers design pay-for-performance evaluations

fresh food prep at Southern Hills Middle School

Denver Public Schools food workers this week received a $150,000 grant to begin designing their own pay-for-performance evaluation system.

“Because everyone’s going to be doing scratch cooking now, that takes more work and more time, so we wanted to give the workers something back,” said Bernadette Jiron, president of the Denver Federation for Paraprofessionals and Nutrition Service Employees. Read more in the Denver Post.

No point in telling parents about kids’ weight?

(Reuters Health) – School policies that let parents know when their children are overweight or obese appear to have little impact on the problem, a new study finds. Read all about it in Reuters.

Secondhand smoke tied to mental health problems in kids

Estimates suggest that anywhere between 4.8 and 5.5 million children in the U.S. live in households where they are exposed to secondhand smoke, putting them at greater risk for multiple health problems. Now, new research suggests that secondhand smoke exposure can increase the odds of developing certain mental and behavioral disorders by 50 percent. Read more in the Huffington Post.

WOW! Children’s Museum steps up to the healthy food plate

WOW! Children's Museum logoPedaling at a rigorous pace, it takes a 7-year-old about five minutes on a hand bike to burn off the calories gained from a small bowl of strawberries. It takes roughly two hours for the same child doing the same exercise to burn off a candy bar.

The consensus among 7-year-olds on the hand bike at the WOW! Museum in Lafayette last week? Eat more strawberries. Read more about the “Eat Well, Play Well” exhibit (interactivity in English and Spanish) in the Colorado Hometown Weekly.

Calling all school lunch heroes!

Know someone in your community who is making great efforts to improve school lunch? Know someone going to exceptional strides to ensure children are exposed to not only good food, but gardening and learning about the process of seed to harvest to kitchen to table? Perhaps he or she is a school food service cook, server, director, administration, parent, teacher, or student activist? Tell the The LunchBox (founded by EdNews Parent expert and head of Boulder Valley schools’ nutrition services, Ann Cooper) all about it.

The LunchBox will choose two inspirational folks twice a month to be featured in its Heroes blog section.

Once your hero has been selected, you will be asked to submit a 500-800 word blog about your hometown school food hero touching on the following points:

  • The background on what it took for your hero to get to where she/he is today
  • The story of your hero’s connection to healthier school meals, including who she/he teamed up with to help reach her/his goals
  • Why it is important to get healthy food into schools
  • An action paragraph: What are some small steps our followers can take to do help in their own communities?

Submit your hero (and/or your questions!) to Sunny at and be sure to put “Lunch Box Hero” in the subject line.

Colorado wins millions to boost school clinics

Colorado public health clinics won nearly $2.5 million in new federal grants to expand school-based medical centers for the poor and underserved, as providers gear up for an influx of new patients under the Affordable Care Act.

The Department of Health and Human Services grants, including $500,000 to Denver Health for its school programs, will pay for capital improvements expanding care to 440,000 new patients nationwide, on top of 790,000 already served, government officials said. Read more in the Denver Post.

New Mass. school food rules ban sweet snacks

BOSTON—Sugary sodas and sweet snacks are out along with potato chips and other vending machine cuisine under Massachusetts’ new school nutrition standards approved Wednesday. Read more in the Boston Globe.

Report: One-third of U.S. children are overweight or obese

More than one-third of U.S. children between ages 10-17 are considered obese (16.4 percent) or overweight (an additional 18.2 percent), according to a report released last week by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. That percentage has nearly tripled in the past 10 years, according to former Surgeon General David Satcher. Read more in EdWeek.

Citing health concerns, schools reconsider attendance awards

At his daughter’s high school graduation ceremony last year, Dr. Anthony Billittier was struck by the number of students receiving awards for perfect attendance. As commissioner of health for Erie County, N.Y., he couldn’t help but wonder if any of the students had gone to school sick in order to preserve their attendance record. Read more in the Washington Post.

Demand rises for Larimer County’s Kids Cafe

This summer, the Food Bank for Larimer County’s Kids Café is serving more than 750 meals a day to children at risk for hunger. In June alone, the food service program served 16,000 meals to children. That represents a 23 percent increase from the number of meals served in June 2010 and the largest meal outreach for Kids Café during its seven years of operation.

Kids Café, funded in part by the Federal Summer Food Service Program and administered by the Colorado Department of Education, is a year-round feeding program that targets children ages 3-18 who might be at risk of hunger. Read more in the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

Free cooking kits for qualifying schools

Share Our Strength has teamed up with the Partnership for a Healthier America to help in the distribution of free, high-end cooking demo kits, to schools and nonprofits that are facilitating chef engagement in schools.

Launched by First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, Chefs Move to Schools encourages chefs to pair up with local schools to mobilize and excite a new generation of healthy eaters.  By adopting a school, a chef will work with school food professionals, teachers, parents and students to help educate kids about food and nutrition, and help them to make healthy choices.

Participating Chefs Move to Schools partners are eligible to receive a free cookware kit valued at approximately $2,000.   For more information or to register a chef/school match and apply for a cooking kit, visit Share Our Strength.

Should parents lose custody of severely obese kids?

A controversial new editorial is firing up the debate about what to do about kids who have become severely overweight, suggesting that some of them should be placed into foster care. Check out this Canadian TV report based on U.S. research findings.

USDA seeks ways to boost farm-to-school programs

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The popularity of farm-to-school programs that put locally grown food on cafeteria trays has exploded in recent years — so much so that the federal agency in charge of school lunches is giving them a new stamp of approval. Read more in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Jillian Michaels dishes out healthy snack ideas for kids

Leading health and wellness expert Jillian Michaels joined Marlo Thomas on Mondays with Marlo for a terrific chat about fitness, weight loss, self-improvement, and more! Here are ideas for some not-so-terrible “junk food” snacks. Read more at Parent Dish.

PE teachers and the obesity epidemic

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions and threatens to impact the health and well being of children and adolescents . States, school districts and schools are addressing childhood obesity through multi-pronged strategies that include developing school nutrition and physical activity policies and implementing classroom instruction in nutrition and physical education. Read more in the Pittsburgh Examiner.


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.