Success Stories

Leading the Way for School Wellness in the Midwest

School Wellness
Illinois

Academy for Global Citizenship | Chicago, Illinois

Setting the Stage: Establishing the Local School Wellness Policy

In 2008, the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) established a taskforce to develop, implement, and evaluate a new wellness policy designed to reflect the school’s values. This taskforce included a food service manager, executive director, the school’s director, teachers, students, and parents. It set goals including daily recess, made-from-scratch meals, morning yoga for all students, and extracurricular activities. The taskforce also set standards for evaluating wellness activities and created a comprehensive website to collect data, including students’ test scores, students’ heights and weights, monthly participation in the school meal program, financial information for the previous fiscal year, and partnerships with community organizations to support its wellness policy.

Taking Action: Activities to Meet Local School Wellness Policy Goals

School Meals

To ensure that all school meals met the IOM’s recommended nutrition standards, the AGC partnered with its food service management company to revise its lunch menus. It used funding from a small grant to teach cafeteria staff how to make meals from scratch with fresh ingredients. Staff members prepared meals using foods that did not contain trans fats or artificial preservatives, colors, or sweeteners and worked with local farmers to buy fresh, locally produced eggs, fruits, and vegetables.

Before new food items were put on the menu, the school chef took samples to classrooms so students could taste the items and ask questions. If students did not like a new food, the chef worked to revise the recipe and find creative ways to promote it. For example, before introducing tofu to the menu, the school chef invited a local tofu maker to come to the school and talk with students about how tofu is made, share nutritional facts, and give students samples to taste. This approach has often helped to get students excited about a new food item and increased the chances that they would try it.

Parents were also invited to attend afterschool “Taste of AGC” events where they could taste and vote on new items for the school lunch menu. Other activities provided information about the importance of healthy eating for their families.

Nutrition Education

The AGC used nutrition education programs to teach healthy habits and sustainable lifestyles. These programs included teaching students about gardening and giving them opportunities to plant, harvest, prepare, serve, and taste foods grown in the school’s garden. Through the school’s garden and small chicken farm, students:

  • Discovered the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables.
  • Learned how to become good stewards of the earth.
  • Developed self-confidence, discipline, and other skills needed to collaborate with others.

Teachers oversaw maintenance of the garden, but students were responsible for planting, weeding, tilling and testing the soil; watering the plants; and harvesting the produce when it was ready. Many of the foods that students ate at school were grown in the garden, which encouraged students to be actively involved in the food production process. The school chef led the garden project and used it to teach students about where food comes from and how it can be prepared for different meals.

The garden was also used to enhance academic lessons and homework assignments. For example, students were asked to take home a fruit or vegetable from the garden and learn how to prepare it with their families.

The AGC teachers were asked to model positive nutrition practices and to include nutrition education in their lessons plans. For example, when students in fourth grade were learning about fruits and vegetables that grow in the rainforest, teachers asked cafeteria staff to serve rainforest fruits like bananas and pineapple to help students learn about the subject.

Accomplishments

Since implementing its wellness policy, the AGC became the first school in the Midwest to receive the Gold Award of Distinction from the USDA as part of its HealthierUS School Challenge.

The AGC also participated in the Chicago Public Schools’ healthy food pilot program. Components of the program, such as school gardens, have since been adopted by the school system and are now reaching more than 400,000 students.

As a result of the school’s wellness policies, AGC students have opportunities to be physically active at schools every day, eat healthy foods, and learn about health and sustainability. School lunch participation increased to the highest rate in the district.

Many parents have also reported that these activities motivated them to plant their own gardens and make healthier food choices.

Because of these achievements, educators from around the world have visited the AGC to learn about its experiences implementing a comprehensive school wellness program.

Sourced from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Putting Local School Wellness Policies into Action. Atlanta, GA: US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2014. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/NCCDPHP/dph.