As president and CEO of Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC), Rochelle Davis is a leading advocate for environmental health and wellness in schools. Ask Davis what she hopes the school of the future will look like, and she’ll take you to visit Chicago’s Academy for Global Citizenship, a public charter school. There you’ll see children eating organic, nutritionally balanced meals, doing yoga or gardening in the schoolyard. In addition to engaging in a rigorous academic program, these students are learning what it takes to live healthy, active lives.
Real Chicken Comes to Chicago
Ask Davis what the school of the future might smell like and she’ll take you to visit one of hundreds of public schools in Chicago where at lunchtime you can catch the aroma of freshly baked chicken – the first unprocessed, bone-in chicken prepared on site and served to public school students in Chicago in more than 30 years. Raised on Amish farms in northern Indiana, the antibiotic-free chicken is one of many healthier, regionally grown food choices on the menu, with more to come.
HSC collaborated with the Chicago Public Schools Nutrition Support Services, food service provider Chartwells-Thompson, fellow W.K. Kellogg Foundation grantee School Food FOCUS, The Pew Charitable Trusts and Whole Foods to work out the many supply chain issues involved in bringing real chicken to Chicago schools. Davis and others on the team even visited the poultry farms in Indiana to see how the chickens are raised.
A Simple But Effective Recipe for Change
Since its start in 2002, HSC has had a lot to do with shaping the conditions that make healthier schools and healthier school food possible. Its success stems from a simple but effective recipe for change: HSC empowers the full range of school stakeholders – students, parents, teachers, school nurses, administrators and community members – to become leaders in efforts to address health and wellness issues.
“Changing policy isn’t enough,” Davis says. “You have to build the infrastructure to support the implementation of policy changes.” To that end, HSC partners with Chicago Public Schools in “Go for the Gold,” a district-wide initiative to help Chicago’s public schools meet the USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge. Through its Fit to Learn program, HSC trains teachers to become wellness champions who can mentor fellow teachers at their schools. Other HSC programs focus on engaging principals, school nurses and parents to become agents of change.
Students Transform the Future of School Food
There’s no better example of HSC’s inclusive approach than its five-year-old Cooking Up Change competition. The annual contest challenges teams of high school students to create recipes for school lunches that meet high nutrition standards on a tight budget, using only ingredients commonly available from the school food services and requiring no more than six steps. HSC began the contest in Chicago and has since expanded it to a number of school districts nationwide. Winning teams travel to Washington to compete in the HSC-run national finals, held in May.
In 2011, a team from Chicago Vocational Career Academy won the flagship Chicago contest with baked chicken (the fresh, bone-in chicken) rolled in flour and crushed Rice Krispies, a sweet potato salad and a side dish of cabbage and kale called ‘Cousins.’ In addition to their trip to Washington, winning team members each receive a culinary arts scholarship and get to serve their meal to the mayor, city hall and the school board.
To top it off, the winning meal is served in cafeterias throughout the school district. The winning meal from two years ago – chicken jambalaya with jalapeno cornbread and cucumber salad – is still on the menu. In the end, the winners aren’t just the members of the first place team but all students in the city.
One Step at a Time
Through Cooking Up Change and its leadership programs, HSC is growing the healthy school movement one school at a time, one student at a time ... one meal at a time. If Davis gets her wish for the future, then every school might look something like the Academy for Global Citizenship. Local food on the school lunch menu will come to mean not only chicken from nearby farms but also the occasional egg from a schoolyard hen.
Check out a video about Healthy Schools Campaign’s 2011 Cooking Up Change Chicago contest.