First Person

This week's healthy schools highlights

Dad blogger chronicles son’s school lunch

The food editor for The Associated Press, J.M. Hirsch, is documenting what he sends his second-grade son for lunch every day in a blog. The blog is called “Lunch Box Blues: 180 days. 180 meals. Making it out … well fed.” Check it out.

Colorado schools extend healthier options to vending machines

vending machineLittle by little, food offered in schools is becoming healthier.

This year, some Colorado schools are bringing their vending machines up to par with the healthful food they have been offering in the cafeteria.

“Kids do gravitate to vending machines, so schools wanted to continue their health programs into their vending machines,” said Patrick Donovan, regional vice president for Revolution Foods, developers of “healthy” vending machines. Read more in the Denver Post.

Boulder and Denver school boards consider later starts

Denver Public Schools’ Board of Education took a first step Thursday night toward limiting member spending and set up a process to track it — but discussion started slowly. Read more in the Denver Post. Boulder Valley schools are also considering a later start. Read more in the Daily Camera.

Melons cut from school lunches

Pueblo County District 70 and Pueblo City Schools no longer are serving cantaloupe to students as part of their school lunch programs. District 70 officials eliminated cantaloupe from the lunch menu Tuesday as a result of the recent reports linking cantaloupe to a listeria outbreak. Read more in the Pueblo Chieftain.

Healthy school lunch recipes for even the pickiest of eaters

School is back in session, to the relief of many parents.  But sometimes getting your kids to eat a healthy meal can be almost as hard as getting them to the bus stop on time.

These recipes will get them to indulge in good-for-you food that tastes great. Check out this Fox News report.

Packing school lunches safely

Next time you pack a lunch for your child, you might want to add some extra ice packs or make sure it gets refrigerated. A recent study in the science journal Pediatrics has found that most of the lunches kids bring to school and day care are being stored at unsafe temperatures. This can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning. Read more in the Chicago Tribune.

Books packed with ideas for fixing bad lunches

paper sack lunchIf you want to work on improving the meals at your kids’ schools, much help is available.  Just in, for example:

From the Center for Ecoliteracy: Rethinking School Lunch: Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools: a Cookbook and Professional Development Guide. You don’t have to be in California to take advantage of this resource.  It’s full of recipes and good ideas, as are other resources from the Center. Read more in The Atlantic.


School-based health clinics play vital role in childrens’ lives

Treating skinned knees and stomachaches is part of the drill at any school nurse’s office or school-based health center. But healthcare providers at these sites do much more than treat everyday aches and pains: They give checkups and vaccinations, make sure kids take their insulin shots and antidepressants on time, and teach them how to manage chronic conditions such as asthma. Read more in the Los Angeles Times.

How to raise healthier, smarter, fitter children

Schools have become hazardous health zones full of empty calories, junk food and stripped-down physical education programs that are cultivating a nation of fatter, dumber and more aggressive kids. In the film, “The Social Network,” Mark Zuckerberg tells his friend that there are more geniuses in China than there are people in the United States. The Cold War gave us the missile gap, but now we have something much more threatening to our future and our children’s future — the achievement gap. Read more in the Huffington Post.

States scramble to pay for healthier school food

The biggest overhaul to school lunches in the past 15 years is giving states heartburn. The federal government has mandated a healthier menu, and state and school officials are trying to figure out how to cope with the added costs. Read more in Stateline.

Action for Healthy Kids seeks parent wellness advocates

Action for Healthy Kids is looking for 20 “parent wellness advocates” in elementary schools across Colorado to promote healthy eating and increase physical activity during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.

Selected parents will receive leadership training, coaching, stipends, and funding to implement school wellness projects and serve as spokesparents and mentors for creating healthier school cultures.  Parents, grandparents, or guardians of elementary school students in schools that have at least 40% participation in free/reduced priced school meals are eligible to apply.  See if your school meets this requirementJoin CAFHK for a 30-minute webinar at 2 p.m. Oct. 3 to learn more. If you know this job is right for you, apply now!

President proclaims September as Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

President Obama has marked September 2011 as the first “National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month,” calling on all Americans to “promote healthy eating and greater physical activity by all our nation’s children.”

“By taking action to address the issue of childhood obesity,” the president went on, “we can help America’s next generation reach their full potential.” Read more in this Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog.

Fuel Up to Play 60 kicks off healthy school year

The White House has declared September National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, a reminder to all Americans that instilling physical activity and healthy eating habits among our nation’s youth is more important than ever before. The month also kicks off the third season of Fuel Up To Play 60 and a new school year of motivating students to take charge of their well-being. Read more in the Digital Journal.

Denver schools celebrate Colorado Proud School Meal Day

Denver Public Schools (DPS) Wednesday celebrated local farmers by highlighting Colorado products on the school menu as part of Colorado Proud School Meal Day, as proclaimed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. DPS is promoting Colorado agriculture by serving green beans and cucumbers from DiSanti Farms in Pueblo, peaches from Palisade Produce, pears from Wacky Apple of Hotchkiss, natural beef from Ranch Foods Direct in Colorado Springs, and milk and eggs from Sinton Dairy on the school lunch menu.

To educate students about agriculture, DPS Food and Nutrition Services sent a Colorado map to schools that identifies the towns/farms that provide Colorado-grown products. In addition, DPS Food and Nutrition Services features fresh Colorado produce from school gardens and urban farms in the school salad bars and coordinates dairy farmer presentations in the classroom through the Western Dairy Association.

Sunflowers at Crestview gardenAlso in celebration of Colorado Proud Day, at select DPS schools (Bradley, Brown, Bromwell, Fairmont, Fairview, Gilpin, Lowry, McGlone), representatives from Slow Food Denver and Denver Urban Gardens led students in school garden tours. After the garden tours, healthy recipes were prepared utilizing school garden produce or Colorado-grown produce. Some of these schools held cooking demonstrations in the cafeteria by local chefs, while others featured hands-on cooking demos after the garden tours. Steele Elementary students shared a Colorado Proud lunch with residents of the Denver Zoo.

To connect students at McGlone Elementary School to a bountiful garden in their own back yard, Quint Redmond, an urban farmer who is growing vegetables on the McGlone School grounds, spoke to students about farming in an urban setting, while Andy Nowak of Slow Food Denver led a school garden and greenhouse tour. Tim Burleigh, Markets Division Director of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, spoke with students about the Colorado agriculture industry, and school food service staff served students a wonderful lunch highlighting school-garden and Colorado-grown produce.

Jeffco schools celebrate locally grown food, too

Colorado pride runs deep in Jeffco – that’s the idea behind Jeffco’s Food and Nutrition Services new Colorado Proud Days campaign.

Every second Wednesday of the month, cafeterias will feature a meal with foods grown, raised or processed by Rocky Mountain farms and companies. The first menu on Wed., Sept. 14, features a beef and pinto bean chili with beef from Castle Rock Meat Company and BBQ Foods in Commerce City, sweet potato rolls from Denver’s Harvest Moon Bakery, fresh veggie sticks from local farms, paired with milk from the local Robinson Milk Company.

“Jeffco Schools is a member of the national organization School Food Focus,” said Jeffco’s Food and Nutrition Services Executive Director Linda Stoll. “Its goal is to help large, urban school districts change to less processed, more locally sourced and sustainably produced foods.”

Stoll says Jeffco’s parents want freshly-baked, homemade, scratch cooking for their kids.  “We are trying to change our kitchen technology and train our workforce to create that healthy environment,” said Stoll. “We think it’s important to shop in Colorado to put the money back in the community.”

Rocky Ford cantaloupe had been a feature item on the menu, but because of a recent local Listeria outbreak, Colorado cantaloupe has been removed as a safety precaution.

Poudre schools celebrate wellness

A couple upcoming events will have kids and adults alike having fun and learning to make healthier choices at the same time. First is the annual Fall Family Wellness Day at Laurel Elementary School of Arts and Technology, 1000 E. Locust St. It runs from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23.

Some events include: bike rodeo; obstacle course and bouncy slide; area health and wellness information; door prizes; and dinner.

Then, a week later, check out some wellness activities at Irish Elementary, 515 Irish Dr. Students will do physical activities to promote healthy living and support the new cancer center at Poudre Valley Hospital.

The Friday events will be the culmination of a week of cancer awareness and learning how to live a healthy life. Pledges for the cancer center will be taken and bright green bracelets for the PVHS cancer center will be sold. Contact: Irish teacher Jeannie Craft at 488-6900.

First Person

‘I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support’: Why it matters to have teachers who look like me

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

For 10 years — the first decade I was in school — all my teachers were white women.

As a Mexican-American kid, I didn’t get the chance to have a man of color as a teacher until high school. Going into my senior year, I like how diverse my teachers are now, but I wish I’d had the same experience when I was younger.

When I think about why it matters to have a teacher I can relate to, I think back to fifth grade. A classmate said to me, “Mexicans are illegal—they cross the border every day! How about you, did you cross the border?” This bothered me. So, after class, I asked the teacher for help. But all she said was, “That’s OK, he was just playing.” From there, I had nowhere to go. She was at the top of the food chain.

In 1990, before they met, my mother and father came over the border from Mexico. My mom’s parents weren’t making enough profit from their cattle ranch, so they had little choice but to immigrate. My mom came with them to the United States and worked at a restaurant so she could send money back home. My father followed his older brother here because he wanted to start a new life. Little did he know he would one day cross paths with my mother and eventually start a family.

But my classmate was “just playing” when he insulted all of this. I wish my teacher had done something else.

If I’d been the teacher, I would’ve taken a different approach and worked to understand why we were acting and responding the way we were. Maybe the other student and I could’ve found common ground. But, unfortunately, we never had a chance to try.

Up until ninth grade, I had zero male teachers of color. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to ask for support when things like the fifth-grade incident happened. Many of us students felt that way — and that’s why I want to be a teacher, a fifth-grade teacher in particular. I want to make my culture an asset in the classroom and be a teacher students feel comfortable confiding in, no matter their background.

A teacher’s perspective: Cut from the same cloth: Why it matters that black male teachers like me aren’t alone in our schools

In middle school, I started seeing more male educators, but they were all white. Then, when it came time for me to start high school, I ended up going to school in a different neighborhood — an hour commute away—and things finally changed for me. Since starting high school, I’ve had six male teachers of color, and it’s made a huge difference.

My high school makes a big deal out of the whole “building relationships” thing. To my teachers and everyone else at the school, relationships are just as important as academics. At first, it was hard to get used to, but eventually it started making sense to me. I’m in an all-male mentorship group led by two African-American men who openly share about their struggles growing up in New York, and give us advice in any area of life — including what it means to appreciate our cultures. This is one of the things I like most about my school.

It’s hard to explain the way it feels to have a teacher who looks like you; they’re like older brothers who become a huge part of our lives, even if it’s just for four years. They make it easier to connect and socialize and help me feel more like I belong. To me, learning from someone who reflects who you are is one of the best things a student can experience.

Near the end of the school year, my mentorship group did an activity where we took turns getting asked questions by other students and staff. One of the mentors asked me, “What’s it like being Mexican American and how has your background influenced your goals?” No one had ever asked me that before, and it took a long time for me to process the question.

After a few moments, I spoke a bit about my family’s story and shared some of the stereotypes I had encountered and how they affect me today. Everyone was so supportive, and the mentors encouraged me to continue breaking stereotypes and defining myself rather than letting others define me.

It was nerve-wracking at first, telling my story in that group, but after three years of high school, we’d developed that level of trust. It was the first time I’d shared my story with that many people at once, but it felt intimate and very different from the time in fifth grade when that kid tried to tell my story for me.

Finally having teachers that look like me has made a huge difference. They don’t just mentor me and help me with my academics, they also make my goal of becoming a teacher seem more realistic.

Having men of color I can look up to and model myself after is a big part of why I have no doubt I’ll make it to college — and eventually be able to give other kids the type of help my mentors have given me. I know where I’m needed, and that’s where I’m headed.

Jose Romero is a senior at EPIC High School North in Queens, New York. This piece originally appeared on the blog of TNTP, a national nonprofit and advocacy group that trains new teachers.

First Person

A Queens teacher on Charlottesville: ‘It can’t just be teachers of color’ offering lessons on race

PHOTO: Bob Mical/Creative Commons

In a few short weeks, school will resume in New York and I’m already thinking about how we are going to address racism within the four walls of my classroom. I’m thinking about what texts, historical and current, we can read and films and documentaries we can watch to support dialogue, questioning, and solutions for combatting that ugly, pervasive thread in the fabric of our country’s patchwork quilt called racism.

Last year we read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” a former slave turned abolitionist, and juxtaposed its reading with a viewing of Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13th,” which discusses modern-day slavery in the guise of mass incarceration. Students asked questions of the documentary as they watched it and discussed those queries within their groups and with the class at large afterwards.

We do our children and ourselves a disservice when we don’t have these difficult conversations as a part of our collective curriculums. However, many teachers from various walks of life are neither well-versed nor fully comfortable discussing race on any level with their students. Not talking about racism won’t make it go away. If anything, not talking about racism in the classroom further perpetuates racist ideologies that are, at their root, born out of ignorance. Education’s goal is to dispel ignorance and replace it with truth.

With that being said, just how many teachers feel equipped to facilitate lessons that touch heavily upon race in the classroom? Not nearly enough.

According to Teaching Tolerance, “The dialogue about race should start in the classroom — the teacher-prep classroom, that is. Preservice teachers should be exploring multiculturalism and discussing ways to honor diversity in their future classrooms.”

But often, Hilton Kelly, a professor of education at Davidson College in North Carolina told the site, the coursework isn’t giving future teachers the training they need to talk about race. “Even when future teachers take courses on diversity and multiculturalism,” Kelly said, “those courses don’t take the critical approach to race that future teachers truly need.”

“Food, folklore and festivals are not the same as an analysis of race in America,” Kelly argued.

But an analysis of race in America is exactly what needs to happen. Furthermore, it can’t just be teachers of color solely facilitating such lessons in their classrooms.

I don’t want to write about the events going on in Virginia. I don’t want to think about it. I’m so tired of the hatred and I long for peace, but I can’t very well in good conscience remain silent. That would be akin to protesting with those hate-mongers in Virginia last weekend. I can’t just write about back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, and business-as-usual while my brothers and sisters in Virginia are being murdered in cold blood by white supremacist American Nazis.

Are the children of Virginia safe? Are our children anywhere safe? What can I do to make a difference within the hearts and minds of the children whom I teach? If education is our best vehicle for bringing about change — which it is— how am I going to infuse the lessons I teach with critical thinking and analysis about racism in the United States for the seventh-graders entrusted in my care? How are other educators planning to address these events with their students at every grade-level?

I pose these questions to all who are reading. Whether you are a teacher, a student, a parent, an administrator, or a community member, I plead with you to work together to create answers that work toward healthy conversations and hands-on action in the fight against racism.

Vivett Dukes is a teacher at Queens Collegiate: A College Board School. A version of this post first appeared on New York School Talk