First Person

This week's healthy schools highlights

Fighting obesity in Chicago Public Schools

See for yourself what some energetic, health-loving people are doing in Chicago to get kids more involved in physical fitness and running in this video.

Join Action for Healthy Kids on Worldwide Recess Day

Reserve your Webinar seat now.

 Join Action for Healthy Kids’ Board Member, Dr. Toni Yancey, author of Instant Recess: How to Build a Fit Nation for the 21st Century, in support of Worldwide Recess Day. Brought to you by KEEN, the webinar, to be run from 9:15 to 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14,  is designed to help adults reclaim playtime with short, daily breaks of physical activity.

Take a few minutes on Sept. 14 to get away from your desk and play. Dr. Yancey will introduce the movement, then we’ll spend 10 minutes being active in an Instant Recess break. After registering, you’ll receive a confirmation e-mail explaining how to join the webinar.

Childhood obesity as a strategic priority for schools

In a school system, how do you know what’s really important? The answer to this question is, you take a look at their website, check out their mission statements, and see what they’ve recognized as strategic priorities for the school year. This will tell you in black and white what’s really important to this school system, and what’s less important. Read more at Examiner.

Record August temps heat up climate control debate in schools

It’s the heat, not the budget. More than $250 million in cuts to K-12 education have not dialed back school heating and cooling budgets. But hot students and bothered parents said classrooms were still too hot as school resumed, and districts are talking about possible solutions. Read more in the Denver Post.

Webinar on farm-to- school initiatives

LiveWell Colorado’s new Farm to School Primer is a guidebook to facilitating local food relationships in Colorado. The primer provides a snapshot of current school food conditions in Colorado, demonstrates how Colorado schools can increase the use of fresh and local foods, discusses how some Colorado schools are addressing common concerns and addresses the ways in which the community at large can get involved in making Farm to School successful in Colorado.

So how can you get involved? Whether you are a health-focused educator, a local producer seeking new channels of distribution or a concerned parent or community member, the Farm to School Primer can help you get started.

LiveWell Colorado will also host a webinar from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Sept. 27, which will offer an introduction to the Farm to School Primer and discuss resources you can use to start or expand your involvement in Farm to School. Click here to register for the free webinar.

Physical activity requirements in Colo. schools

Earlier this year, Gov. Hickenlooper signed HB11-1069, legislation that requires all Colorado public elementary schools to provide students the opportunity for 600 minutes of physical activity per month (approximately 30 minutes a day) starting with the 2011-2012 school year. This webinar provides case studies and resources to support schools, parents and other stakeholders in meeting and exceeding this requirement by integrating quality physical activity into the school day and school culture. Speakers from the Colorado Legacy Foundation and a variety of school districts highlight their successful physical education and physical activity efforts.

Boston launches ad campaign against sugary beverages

The teen, perspiration dripping from his brow, longingly eyes a cool orange soda in the clutches of a young woman. He then strides into a store, buys himself one, eagerly twists off the cap and, just as he is about to gulp, a glowing yellow glob soars through the air and smacks him on the head. Read more in the Boston Globe.

Colorado Proud School Meal Day helps children learn value of local foods

On Sept. 14, schools across the state will celebrate Colorado agriculture and educate schoolchildren about healthy eating during Colorado Proud School Meal Day.

Now in its eighth year, the event recognizes the need for schools to encourage eating habits that will promote a lifetime of optimal health. The Colorado Departments of Agriculture and Education invite schools to plan activities that teach children about the importance of eating healthy local foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products.

Sample School Meal Day activities include serving local foods during student mealtimes, incorporating nutrition- and agriculture-focused lessons into curriculum, inviting local farmers and ranchers to give presentations to students and hosting school garden plantings or harvests.

In 2010, more than 200 schools participated in School Meal Day, reaching nearly 60,000 students. More than 40 chef demos and producer presentations were held at schools across the state.

  • For more information about Colorado Proud School Meal Day, click here.
  • To view a webinar with resources and case studies for Colorado Proud School Meal Day, click here.

If you are looking for Colorado food products, visit Colorado MarketMaker at

Alliance for a Healthier Generation celebrates Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

In honor of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a national nonprofit founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation to end childhood obesity, will spotlight the success of kids, schools and communities across the country working to increase physical activity and improve nutritious eating for kids. With the help of national celebrities, media organizations and kids themselves, the Alliance will elevate the issue of childhood obesity, showcase positive transformations happening around the country, and offer information to help anyone join the effort and be a part of the solution. Read more at the PR Newswire.

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.