Healthy Schools

Report: DPS lacks PE, recess, breakfast

A group that has been tracking health trends among students of color Monday called on Denver Public Schools to step up its efforts to boost physical activity and improve access to nutritious food.

Antwan Wilson, DPS assistant superintendent, signs a pledge to work toward full implementation of the recommendations made in the Health Justice Report.

School officials say they couldn’t agree more with the conclusions reached in the “Health Justice Report” released by Padres & Jovenes Unidos. Six of them endorsed the report and promised to do what they can to work for its full implementation.

Specifically, the group wants more schools to offer breakfast in the classroom, more improvements to the quality of the food served, and recess before lunch.

“These are things we definitely will commit to,” said Antwan Wilson, assistant superintendent of post-secondary readiness for DPS. He noted that if the district seeks a tax increase in November, part of it will go toward expanding physical education at district elementary and middle schools.

“What you are demanding is so exciting,” said DPS school board member Anne Rowe, one of the six district leaders on a panel receiving the report. “It’s vital that parent groups keep pushing. Yes, progress has been made but there’s much more work to do. Keep pushing the board of education to do what’s right.”

Health initiative launched three years ago

Padres & Jovenes Unidos launched its health justice campaign three years ago with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Organizers sent “health promoters” into the homes of some 230 DPS families, most of them Spanish-speaking and low-income, to educate them about health disparities and to survey them about what changes they’d like to see at their schools, said Monica Acosta.

“We know obesity rates have risen dramatically over 20 years,” said Acosta, who heads the Health Justice initiative. “For communities of color, conditions are even worse. Two of three Latinos are either overweight or obese. That’s pretty significant.

“For Latino parents, this is a really serious issue. We’re not exaggerating when we say our people are dying. If we don’t do something drastic now, our kids will not outlive their parents.”

Cuts to physical education offerings cited

Alicia Leon, a single mother of four, told the panel that while DPS has made great strides, especially around the quality of food served, problems remain.

She said when she was in school, she had physical education every day: “Today, my kids have PE every three days.”

Leon noted that from 2001 to 2011, DPS decreased its physical education teaching staff by 42 percent. The average minutes of PE every week per student fell from 125 to 54.

She also noted that 81 percent of parents indicated they wished their elementary-age children could have recess before lunch.

“This was first recommended to DPS in 2005,” she said. “Seven years later, only a handful of schools have implemented it.”

Finally, only 27 out of 197 DPS schools offer breakfast in the classroom, she said.

Theresa Hafner, director of food and nutrition services for the school district, said parents’ observations were justified.

“You want the same things I want,” Hafner said.

She reported that improvements to the quality of food served in DPS will continue. By fall, every school will have at least one salad bar serving locally-grown produce. No canned fruits will be served for the first few months of school, during the local growing season.

In addition, she said, 50 DPS schools will be participating in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program, a federal program that provides free fruits and vegetable snacks to students at schools with a high percentage of low-income students.

Though the program has been around since 2008, this is by far the largest number of DPS schools ever to take advantage of it, Hafner said.

How are you feeling?

With plan to focus on teen health, Adams 12 school district opens new clinic

PHOTO: Jasleen_kaur/Creative Commons

The Adams 12 school district, Colorado’s sixth-largest, will open its first school-based health clinic this fall at Thornton High School.

The new clinic will offer routine physicals, sick care and mental health counseling to the 1,675 students at Thornton High as well as another 1,000 students who take classes at the district’s career and technical education center on the same campus.

By providing a convenient source of health care, particularly for low-income students, advocates say school-based health centers help prevent and address health problems that can impede learning.

Statewide, the number of school-based health centers has grown over the last decade — from 40 in 2007 to 59 this fall.

Despite the overall upward trend, not all school-based health centers survive. For example, the clinic at Jefferson Junior-Senior High School, a high poverty school in the Jeffco district, closed its doors last spring.

A district official there said the nonprofit organization providing the health services, which were available to Jefferson students and other local residents, decided to depart because district security logistics made it difficult to keep the clinic open during evening and weekend hours.

In Adams 12, planning for the new clinic began in 2015. A district committee chose Thornton High to house the health center because of the high level of poverty in that area and because the campus, which also houses the Bollman Technical Education Center, serves the largest number of high school students in the district.

District spokesman Kevin Denke said the decision to focus on a teenage population stems from the fact that adolescents tend to see doctors less often than younger students and may be starting to engage in risky behaviors, such as sexual activity, alcohol use or drug use.

The neighboring Boulder Valley school district also has a school-based health clinic in the works, though it’s not expected to open until the fall of 2019. That clinic, the district’s first, will be located at the Arapahoe Campus, which houses Arapahoe Ridge High School and the district’s career and technical education center.

District officials said the clinic was originally slated to open earlier, but the launch was pushed back to align with a planned remodel of the career and technical education space.

In the meantime, the district will expand a dental care program that’s gradually ramped up at the Arapahoe Campus. Begun four years ago as a basic screening program that referred kids with cavities and other problems to area dentists, the program last year provided cleanings, fluoride treatments and sealants to 42 students at Arapahoe Ridge and two other district high schools.

This year, the program will offer the same services, plus treatment for minor cavities, to students from all district high schools. The goal is to serve 250 students by the end of the year.

Fighting hunger

No more cheese sandwiches: Denver restores hot lunches for students in debt

Students at Denver's Fairmont ECE-8 have a choice of fruits and vegetables for lunch. (Denver Post file photo)

Denver students will start the year off with lunch debts paid off and a new promise that falling behind on lunch payments will not mean a cold “alternative” meal.

The district announced the change this week.

“We will feed every kid, every day,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg wrote. “We know hungry kids aren’t the best learners.”

In some districts, including DPS, students who fall behind on lunch payments may be given alternative meals such as a cheese sandwich, or graham crackers and milk.

Boasberg said all kids will get regular hot-lunch options while payment issues are resolved and the district works on a long-term strategy.

In the last school year, Denver students had accumulated a balance of more than $13,000. The debt would be higher if some schools had not set aside money to help students.

According to the district, schools paid for more than 37,700 meals during the 2016-17 year.

The district said that donations raised by students through a nonprofit called KidsGiving365, and by Shift Workspaces, founded by Grant Barnhill, a parent of an incoming DPS student, will cover all the outstanding lunch debt of students in the district.

In DPS, all students receive free breakfast. Students who qualify for free lunch based on family income do not make payments and do not accrue debt.

For 2017-18, a family of four must earn less than $31,980 to qualify for free lunch, or less than $45,510 to qualify for a reduced price lunch.

The announcement from DPS reminds families that the application for free or discounted lunch can be submitted throughout the year, and that students are eligible regardless of immigration status.