Healthy School yardstick

New school health data system ramps up

PHOTO: Chris Hinger
Pagosa Springs Middle School purchased this gaga pit— used to play a fast-paced version of dodgeball—using money from its Healthy School Champion awards.

About 350 Colorado schools will try out a new survey this year that measures how well they incorporate health and wellness into all aspects of school life, from curriculum and meals to student services and school culture.

The online tool, Healthy Schools Smart Source, is meant to give school leaders information about how their practices in areas such as nutrition, physical activity and social-emotional health stack up to those at other public schools in the state.

Citing the link between student health and achievement, advocates say Smart Source will help schools identify and track practices that make students better learners.

It was first piloted last year with 77 schools. This year’s expanded pilot represents a second opportunity for project leaders to fine tune the survey.

Unlike the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which sparked a protracted debate last spring about whether parental consent should be required before students take part, Smart Source isn’t a student survey and doesn’t collect student-level data.

Pagosa Springs Middle School participated in Smart Source last year and will do so again this fall. Principal Chris Hinger believes the tool will ultimately help correct what he views as the state’s single-minded focus on academics and test scores.

“Smart Source … has the potential to swing that pendulum back to where we build into our accountability systems and our improvement plans health and wellness,” he said.

“If you value something, you measure it.”

Smart Source is a collaboration between the Colorado Education Initiative, the state health and education departments and Kaiser Permanente, which provided $3 million for the project in 2013.

The new survey collapses various school health questionnaires — including one from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — into a single tool. It asks about topics ranging from school salad bars and food-related fundraisers to daily recess time. There are also questions related to social-emotional health, such as whether schools conduct universal mental health screenings and have bullying prevention efforts.

Amy Dyett, director of Health and Wellness at the Colorado Education Initiative, said the tool appears to be unique nationally and has prompted interest from groups like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Action for Healthy Kids.

In Colorado, the tool replaces the five-year-old Healthy School Champions Score Card, a similar survey that was primarily used to determine winners of an annual healthy schools contest. That contest will continue with Smart Source as a key yardstick.

Like the Score Card, Smart Source will be voluntary, but project leaders hope that eventually about 75 percent of Colorado public schools will use it. That’s about 1,400 schools, in contrast to the 75 to 100 that routinely filled out the Score Card.

One of the biggest incentives to participate in Smart Source will be the crisp results report that participating schools receive.

“The number one thing that they want is a nice report. They want the data back,” said Dyett.

Hinger, whose school has won back-to-back Healthy School Champions awards, said he appreciates  comparative data from other Colorado schools on the Smart Source report.

“‘Where is the rest of the state?’ is always a question I’m asking,” he said.

For now, only participating schools will receive the results report, but project leaders hope eventually to make them available to the public.

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”

Raised Voices

Balloons, hearts, and ‘die-ins’: How Colorado students marked National Walkout Day

Students gather at the Colorado State Capitol to protest gun violence. (Melanie Asmar)

Thousands of students across Colorado poured out of their schools Wednesday to protest gun violence and to remember 17 victims of last month’s deadly shooting in Florida. Chalkbeat’s Melanie Asmar walked with students from East High School to the Colorado State Capitol, where Gov. John Hickenlooper and Speaker of the House Cristanta Duran urged them to remain politically active.

The protests took different forms at other schools – and not everyone wanted the event to be political. There were balloon releases, voter registration drives, and public “die-ins” at major intersections. And in one Denver area school district, a surge of threats cast a pall over events.

Here’s a look at #NationalWalkoutDay from around the region.

Students at Skinner Middle School in northwest Denver marched in silent solidarity.

In Colorado, teenagers can register to vote before their 18th birthday.

At schools in the Adams 12 district north of Denver, a big uptick in threats the night before – and a warning letter from the superintendent – led many students to skip school altogether.

Students at McAuliffe International School in northeast Denver spoke with their shirts. Instead of “Thoughts & Prayers,” they asked for “Policy & Change.”

But their event was not all about politics. They formed a heart with their bodies and read the names of the dead.

At Jefferson Jr./Sr. High School, students promised to work to change school culture.

Many schools released balloons to honor the victims and found other ways to advocate for change.

Unlike some Colorado districts, St. Vrain didn’t officially condone the walkouts, but students at Longmont schools walked out anyway.

Students at Denver’s South High School have been vocal about gun violence. In a recent visit from U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, they rejected the idea that armed teachers would make them safer and demanded that lawmakers do more.

Students from one of Colorado’s KIPP charter schools used their bodies to send a message at a major intersection in west Denver.

Students of color in Denver reminded the public that gun violence is not limited to mass shootings.

Students aren’t just marching. They’re also writing their representatives. State Rep. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, tweeted a picture of her inbox full of emails from students.

Colorado carries the legacy of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School, where a memorial asks urgently as ever: “How have things changed; what have we learned?”