The Other 60 Percent

Eat Your Radio offers kid’s-eye view

Armed with microphones and recording equipment, four fifth-grade reporters deployed themselves throughout teacher Andy Zwick’s classroom at Denver’s Ashley Elementary School on a recent Friday, determined to ferret out the overall opinion of the class.

Denver's Ashley Elementary fifth-grade reporter Fabri Esipa interviews classmate Maria Gonzales about the day's nutrition lesson.

“What do YOU think it is?” they asked, casting glances at the bowls full of something white at the front of the class, and recording the responses.

“Butter?” some suggested. “Whipped cream?” others thought.

But their guesses carried little confidence, since Zwick had warned them not to eat any of it, no matter how good it looked.

It was actually hydrogenated oil, also known as Crisco, and before the hour was up, they would divide into teams of three to four and do some hands-on scooping and measuring work to determine just how much of the stuff really is in a serving of their favorite snack chips versus, say, a turkey sandwich.

Through it all, the reporters would go from team to team describing what each group was doing and recording their classmates’ thoughts and observations.

Program combines nutrition and hands-on journalism for kids

The food part of the lesson is courtesy of the Integrated Nutrition Education Program, a curriculum funded through a federal grant to targeted low-income communities.

KGNU producer Shelley Schlender teaches students how to use audio and video equipment to create radio and online segments.

The journalism part of the lesson is thanks to “Eat Your Radio,” an award-winning project of KGNU, a non-commercial Colorado radio station, now in its third year of documenting the challenges kids face around issues of nutrition and obesity.

“I got involved because children’s nutrition matters to me,” said Shelley Schlender, the KGNU producer who will spend several hours a week for 10 to 12 weeks with the Ashley students this semester, coaching them on how to use the audio and video equipment, how to interview classmates and how to frame the results.

She’ll also take some of the best of what the kids come up with and edit it to create reports to air on KGNU, and nutrition-related messages that the principal will play over the intercom every morning.

Schlender is one of two producers working with Eat Your Radio. The other, Ellen Mahoney, is assigned to Denver’s Swansea Elementary this spring. They’ve also worked with students at Columbine Elementary and Casey and Centennial middle schools in Boulder, and Maxwell Elementary and Centennial K-8 in Denver.

“This has been a beat I’ve covered for years, and I’ve seen enough data to convince me that when kids are healthy, they do better in school,” said Schlender, who has worked for a number of publications and broadcast outlets.

“I’m a journalist. It’s a different role from being a teacher, and different from doing PR for a program. My job is to celebrate the wonderful things that are happening, and to look for the prickly things.”

Eat Your Radio archive ranges from Chicken Salad (W)rap to serious issues

The result is nutrition from a kid’s-eye point of view.

Under the tutelage of KGNU producers, Eat Your Radio reporters have interviewed classmates about nutrition lessons, gone into their school cafeterias to interview lunchroom workers, and talked to family members about eating habits at home.

Best of Eat Your Radio

They’ve gone into grocery stores to examine the layout of the aisles, and documented how junk food is often put at eye level while fresh fruits and vegetables take more effort to get to.

They’ve created a blog where they can submit nutrition-related questions to “Dr. Carrot,” who responds within a few days with kid-friendly answers.

“We didn’t want to just put a microphone in front of them and have them parrot off lessons,” said Maeve Conran, KGNU’s co-director of news and public affairs. “We wanted to give them mikes and help them get to the truth about nutrition challenges. We’ve had a few reports where we’ve really empowered the kids to talk very sincerely about the challenges they face.”

One of Conran’s favorite shows is “Cavities and candy,” which includes a song one fifth-grader wrote about the evils of sugar, and in which the children share their difficulties in just saying no to candy.

“Part of me does want some and part of me does not,” one child admits. “This much of my body wants some, and the rest doesn’t. I’m like, never mind, I want that candy! Never mind! And I can’t make up my mind.”

“There’s just a real honesty coming from the kids, and you can see how conflicted they are,” Conran says. “They absolutely understand the issues around eating, but it’s hard because it’s so tempting.”

Near the top of Schlender’s list is the segment called Chicken Salad (W)rap, which begins with youngsters learning to make healthy chicken salad tortilla wraps in nutrition class.

Later, a handful of young volunteers gave up their recess time to join Schlender in a supply closet – the quietest room they could find – to come up with a song they could sing about chicken wraps.

“We just started playing with it,” Schlender said.

Then there’s the Broccoli Campaign, a five-part series that ran every day for a week on KGNU, paired with a listener call-in on helping kids learn to eat and like foods they initially refuse to eat. In the segments done at school, the Ashley students shared their own reluctance to try broccoli.

“At one point, one girl’s best friend says ‘I know you love mustard, so why not make a mustard sandwich, and I’ll mix in a little broccoli.’ That’s not something I would have thought of, a broccoli and mustard sandwich,” Schlender said.

Teacher embraces pint-sized broadcast crews in his classroom

Zwick isn’t bothered by having pint-sized broadcast crews prowling his classroom during his lesson. Quite the opposite.

“The kids love the technology,” he said. “I’ve taken some of the things Shelley’s done and put them up on my own website. The kids love to laugh at the videos.”

Learn more

On that Friday, 11-year-old Fabri Esipa got to don the headphones and carry the microphone and interview classmates for the first time.

“I like being a reporter,” she said. “I like reporting what people say. But the hardest thing is to know what you’re going to say to the person.”

Schlender is there to help with that. When the reporters run out of questions, she’s there to coach them with some others, and encourage them not to be shy.

“Ask them what they think they’ll learn from this lesson,” she told Fabri. “And be sure to talk to some of the boys. We want boys’ voices too.”

Eat Your Radio is now in its third year of a three-year grant from the Colorado Health Foundation. Conran considers the project to be a huge success with demonstrable results showing that kids who participate in the media portion soak up and remember much more on the nutrition information than kids that don’t.

“Now we’re looking to expand it,” she said. “We’d like to go into other school districts. And I know the schools we’ve worked with have enjoyed it. It benefits the kids in a variety of ways, not just nutrition. It also improves their literacy and their communication skills.”

change up

Just as Lower East Side integration plan takes off, superintendent who helped craft it steps down

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Carry Chan, left, will become acting superintendent in District 1 when Daniella Phillips, right, leaves this month to join the central education department.

The longtime superintendent of the Manhattan community district where parents pushed for a plan to desegregate the local schools is stepping down just as the plan gets underway.

After a decade at the helm of District 1, which includes the Lower East Side and East Village, Superintendent Daniella Phillips is leaving to join the central education department, Chalkbeat has learned. During the yearslong campaign for an integration plan, Phillips acted as a liaison between parents and the education department, which finally approved a new admissions system for the district’s elementary schools this fall.

She will be replaced by Carry Chan, who has also played a role in the district’s diversity efforts as the interim head of a new Family Resource Center, an information hub to help district parents sort through their school options. Chan takes over as acting superintendent on Dec. 18.

The leadership changes comes at a crucial time for the district, which also includes a portion of Chinatown. Parents are currently applying to elementary schools, marking the first admissions cycle under the new enrollment system. Under the system, schools give certain students admissions priority based on their economic status and other factors, with the goal of every elementary school enrolling share of disadvantaged students similar to the district average.

It will be up to the new superintendent to help schools recruit and welcome a greater mix of families, and to help steer parents towards a wider range of schools. Advocates hope the district can become a model for the city.

“There is a torch that needs to be carried in order to really, fully execute,” said Naomi Peña, president of the district’s parent council. “The next superintendent has to be a champion for the mission and the cause.”

During heated public meetings, Phillips tried to keep the peace while serving as a go-between for frustrated integration advocates and reluctant education department officials. The tensions sometimes boiled over, with advocates directing their anger at Phillips — though they were eventually won-over and endorsed the final integration plan.

In her new role, she will oversee school consolidations as part of the education department’s Office of School Design and Charter Partnerships. In District 1, Phillips helped steer three such mergers, which often involve combining small, low-performing schools with ones that are higher achieving.

“It has been such a joy and privilege to be District 1 superintendent for over 10 years, and I’m excited for this next chapter in the district and my career,” Phillips said in an emailed statement.

Chan is a former principal who launched the School for Global Leaders, a middle school that focuses on community service projects and offers Mandarin classes. Last year, she joined the education department’s Manhattan support center, where she helped schools form partnerships in order to learn from one another.

Since October, Chan has served as the interim director of District 1’s Family Resource Center, which is seen as an integral part of making the new diversity plan work. Families must apply for seats in the district’s elementary schools, which do not have attendance zones like other districts. The family center aims to arm families with more information about their options, in the hopes that they will consider schools they may not have previously.

“I think we’re all really passionate about this plan and we really want this to work,” Chan said. “Communication is the key, and being transparent with how we’re progressing with this work.”

more sleeping time

Jeffco schools will study pushing back high school start times

Wheat Ridge High School teacher, Stephanie Rossi, left, teaching during her sophomore AP U.S. History class September 25, 2014. (Photo By Andy Cross / The Denver Post)

Jeffco Public Schools will convene a study group this spring to look at whether high school students should start school later in the mornings.

“People started raising it to me when I started doing the listening tour as something they were interested in,” said Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass. “We’re going to study it.”

Glass said plans call for a task force to meet about eight times over more than a year to come up with recommendations on whether the district should change high school start times, and if so, if it should be district-wide or only in some schools.

The group would need to consider the potential ripple effects of later high school start times, including needing to change transportation, possible costs to the district and the impact it could have on students’ opportunities for work, sports or other after-school activities.

The Cherry Creek and Greeley-Evans school districts moved their high school start times later in the morning this fall. Research has shown that teenagers need more sleep. It’s that research that Glass said many people cited in telling him that high school classes shouldn’t start so early.

District officials are tentatively scheduling a public meeting on February 12 to start the process. The task force would likely be created after that meeting based on people who show interest.

Glass said that if the group suggests the district push back start times, he would expect a decision before the start of the 2019-2020 school year.