First Person

This week's healthy schools highlights

Chefs cook up ideas for healthy school lunches

Check out this PBS report on what the nation’s school chefs are doing to improve the health of oft-criticized school lunch. And find more resources about healthy school lunch.

Obesity rates rise 90 percent in 17 states since 1995

Obesity rates climbed at least 90 percent in 17 states from 1995 to last year, gains that have a direct bearing on U.S. health spending, according to a report. Read more in Bloomberg.

Two boys and two girls walking to school with backpacksWho’s walking to school – and who’s not?

Children living in urban areas and from lower-income families are more likely to walk or ride a bicycle to school, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.  Those activities have proven health benefits. Read more about the research on this CNN blog. And read more about biking and walking to school from EdNews Parent.

[email protected] fundraiser announced

For people interested in healthy schools and those who like planning ahead: Consider joining LiveWell Colorado at its annual fundraising luncheon and
 celebrate the culmination of its 2011 [email protected] initiative, a
 10-week after school healthy cooking competition for high school
 students in Denver Public Schools. The winning meal will be served at
 the luncheon. The event will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8, at the 
Sheraton Denver Downtown
. To purchase corporate tables, tickets or to receive information on 
sponsorship opportunities, please contact Becky Grupe at 720-353-4120 Ext. 209 or [email protected].

Colorado Proud School Meal Day webinar scheduled

Do you want to participate in this year’s Colorado Proud School Meal Day, Sept. 14, but need more information? Participate in this webinar from 11 a.m. to noon Monday, Aug. 1, to learn about the benefits of locally sourced food, how to find producers, how to promote the event, and much more. The one-hour webinar will include speakers from the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Colorado Farm to School, LiveWell Colorado, and local school food service directors who will share their experiences and provide tips for making it a fun and successful day. Register online at

Recording available on state’s new PE requirements

LiveWell Colorado recently hosted a webinar focused on implementation of Colorado HB 11-1069, the “Physical Activity Expectations in Schools” legislation. To view a recording of the webinar, which discusses physical activity requirements in Colorado Schools, please click here.

Chic Penne pasta dish with pasta, chicken and broccoliGreeley school takes second in healthy recipe competition

Congratulations to Greeley’s Winograd K-8 school for bringing home an award from the national Recipes for Healthy Kids competition, which is co-sponsored by Let’s Move! and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Winograd K-8 team’s healthy and delicious “Chic’ Penne” recipe was awarded second place in the competition’s grains category. Check out the winning recipe. Read more about the competition.

Where does Colorado’s school food come from?

LiveWell Colorado has published An Overview of School Food Procurement in Colorado. This web-based report contains information about the current state of school food operations in Colorado – including school meal participation rates, who pays for what, the role of various Colorado agencies, sources and distributors of school food, and the role of the commodities program. Read the report.

Jamie OliverIn Britain, Jamie Oliver health crusade leads to fewer pupils eating school meals

Jamie Oliver’s campaign against the Turkey  Twizzler has cost the taxpayer £500million and resulted in fewer pupils eating school lunches, it emerged yesterday. More than half of primary pupils and around two-thirds of secondary school youngsters are still rejecting the TV chef’s healthier menus. Read more about what’s happening with school lunches across the pond, as they say, in the Daily Mail. Read a recent Q&A with Oliver.

TV affects a child’s sleep patterns

Young children who have a television in their bedrooms watch it more on average and are more likely to have trouble sleeping than those who don’t, a new study found.

Researchers from the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington looked at sleep patterns and TV usage reported by parents for 612 children ages 3 to 5. Read more in the Boston Globe.

Colorado Springs District 11 gets a garden growing

From the superintendent: School District 11, Galileo School of Math and Science, and Pikes Peak Urban Gardens (PPUG) have entered into a partnership to create an urban garden on the old Galileo tennis courts. The original Galileo grant stated that a greenhouse was to be part of the school and required creating partnerships with the community. The partnership between D11, Galileo, and PPUG will accomplish these goals. A 42′ diameter geodesic dome greenhouse will be built on the old tennis courts; this project will be completed by July of this year. The greenhouse will be 13′ high and will contain a water reservoir in the center; the water reservoir is to capture and store heat, and there will eventually be an aquaponics set-up in this reservoir. The greenhouse will be used to grow produce year round. The area outside of the greenhouse will be a sensory garden and a permaculture garden.

Lafayette Elementary students Lining up to plant school garden.The remainder of the tennis courts will be raised beds for vegetable production. In the center of the raised beds there will be a gathering area for school classes, community meetings and classes (gardening classes and nutrition classes are a couple of examples), and other outside events.

Small areas inside the greenhouse and in the raised beds will be set aside for students to conduct plant/soil based research for classes and for science fairs. The garden itself will be a space in which all teachers can teach and all students can learn; it is not set aside just for science. There will be a compost pile to the west of the greenhouse to make soil for the raised beds. All other growing space will be for production. The District Food & Nutrition Services department will buy all of the produce grown in the garden to use in our school cafeterias. This project is designed to create revenue so that a part-time master gardener can oversee the growing spaces.

One of the typical downfalls of school-based gardens is that the primary growing season is when everyone is gone. With a part-time master gardener watching the project year round, we will be able to keep the garden in production even when people are off for the summer. The produce grown over the summer could be used to feed some of our students who rely on school lunch for a consistent meal.

This project is poised to be a national model for growing healthy food and getting it into the hands of kids; very few school districts are attempting this type of “in-house” system. Read more about school gardens.

Schools penalized for food service problems result in fine

Problems in recording which students were eligible for free meals resulted in Trinidad School District #1 being penalized by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). At last Tuesday’s meeting, the school board agreed to return $214,000 to CDE.

The district’s food service was subject to a review and audit by the state last year which revealed extensive problems in the way eligibility for free meals was being recorded. Read more in the Trinidad Times.

Parents’ military deployment may harm kids’ mental health

TUESDAY, July 5 (HealthDay News) – Children with a parent on long-term military deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan are at increased risk for mental health problems, new research suggests. Read more in US News. Read an expert’s advice to deployed parents or their spouses.

Program keeps kids from going hungry

A turkey sandwich, an apple and a cookie.

This is the type of lunch many people take for granted, but for children who take part in Colorado`s Summer Food Service Program, this lunch is a blessing. Read more in the Broomfield Enterprise.

Late talkers do fine as they grow up: study

(Reuters Health) – In good news to parents of late talkers, an Australian study shows a slow start on language is unlikely to have lingering effects on kids’ mental health. Read more at Reuters.

USDA announces improvements in school wellness

The USDA has announced improvements included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that will enhance local wellness policies in schools in order to promote healthier lifestyles for children. Local wellness policies are an important tool for parents, local educational agencies and school districts to promote student wellness, prevent and reduce childhood obesity, and provide assurance that school meal nutrition guidelines meet the minimum federal school meal standards. Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program were required to have local wellness policies in place beginning in the 2006-2007 School Year. Read more from the USDA.

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.