Over 6,500 CPS students joined First Lady Michelle Obama at McCormick Place yesterday to celebrate the third anniversary of her Let's Move! Campaign as well as the introduction of the LetsMove! Active Schools – an event that coincided perfectly with the release of the Healthy CPS Action Plan.
A combined effort by Mayor Emanuel, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair, this plan builds on the District's existing wellness agenda by outlining 60 concrete strategies for improving the overall health of all students.
"Good health is essential for good learning, and Chicago is leading the nation with comprehensive strategies to improve the health and wellness of all residents," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "Our goal is to ensure every student has the knowledge, tools and access necessary for good health."
The celebration hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama served as an excellent backdrop for this announcement, as fifth-seventh graders from across the District were given the opportunity to participate in an interactive, high-energy event that inspired them to eat well and stay active.
"It was so fun to be there," said Taylor Pulver, a 5th-grader from Hawthorne Elementary. "We were put into different groups to learn a cool dance, and we saw lots of celebrities, including Mrs. Obama, who said that she really cared about us and wants us to be healthy."
The goal of Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! Initiative is to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation – an issue that is of particular significance for CPS. Recently-released obesity statistics on its students show that the overall proportion of CPS students who are overweight or obese remains high. However, the data also shows that incoming CPS kindergarteners are at a healthier weight then kindergarteners from the previous generation – a promising sign that the tide may be turning.
"While our findings are promising, we know there is still more work to do," said Dr. Bechara Choucair, Commissioner for the CDPH. "Healthy CPS provides real, innovative, system-wide strategies that will make a difference."
Adopted in October 2012, Healthy CPS raises the bar for physical wellness by insisting on healthier meals and expanding nutrition education and physical activity requirements throughout the District. In addition to providing meals that meet or exceed USDA standards, these policies mandate physical activity during the school day while creating grade-appropriate benchmarks for nutrition education.
"Ensuring that our students receive nutrition education and have opportunities for physical activity can influence a lifetime of healthy choices," said CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. "But just as important is the impact that good health and nutrition have on academic achievement. Children who exercise and have nutritious diets are better able to concentrate and perform well in the classroom. The Healthy CPS initiative represents our commitment to creating and maintaining such an environment for all our students."
Through a new initiative called Learn Well, the Office of Student Health and Wellness (OSHW), under the direction of CPS Chief Health Officer Dr. Stephanie Whyte, will help schools achieve the goals of the student wellness policies, which provide comprehensive guidance to schools to ensure that all students have a healthy school environment in which to learn and play. Workshops and seminars will be created to help schools align with the District's new health policies – a hands-on commitment that those leading the effort see as crucial.
"We're not just asking schools to implement a program or change a tradition," said Annie Lionberger, head of Student Wellness for the OSHW. "We're asking them to make a comprehensive commitment to student wellness, which is a complex issue that takes time and effort to address."
With 100 CPS schools already certified by the USDA as part of the Healthier US Schools Challenge, and another 54 schools with certifications pending, CPS is well on its way to becoming a healthier, more active District. The Healthy CPS Action Plan will redouble those efforts through a variety of strategies, including doubling the number of school-based learning gardens, creating a standardized physical education curriculum map across all grade levels, and expanding access to free oral exams and vision screenings.
"Our overall mission is to remove health-related barriers to learning and establish student wellness as a foundation for academic success," said Annie Lionberger. "We all want the same thing – healthy, physically active students in every school in the District."