I had the joy this week of visiting the Perspectives Charter School in Chicago and chatting with their students and staff. This low-income public school has many things going right. They have exceptionally high graduation standards, nevertheless 100 percent of the senior class are graduating from high school, in a school district where the average is only 68 percent; and even more amazing, 100 percent of graduating seniors are going to college!
But I was especially interested in their health and fitness curriculum. These junior-high and high school students were learning nutrition and healthy lifestyle information (how to tell whole foods from empty foods, why you don’t feel as alive after eating junks) — relevant, immediate information from an inspiring teacher. The classroom studies fit hand and glove with their lives. The students get 50 minutes a day of healthy physical activity, from yoga to soccer, and have an inspired chef, Debbie O’Connor, who prepares fresh whole foods for the kids for their breakfasts and lunches.
When I visited the cafe, I saw more kids drinking Organic Valley milk than any other beverage (this is milk grown on organic family farms without the use of chemical pesticides, antibiotics, or synthetic hormones). The kids also had a selection of delicious fresh fruit, one of the best salads I’ve had in some time, appetizing fresh veggies, and healthy sandwiches on whole wheat bread.
The kids I spoke with suggested that changing from junk food to whole food was tough at first, but now this is the type of food they prefer wherever they are — not just at school.
One 11th grader I spoke with had never even seen many of these healthy foods before she found them at school, and had never before been willing to eat a healthy salad.
Changing our schools is one way to change our culture. Healthy schools can really work to inspire kids and to change lives. If you want help making your school like this one, you can download a parents-action kit at OrganicValley.coop. In the meantime, you can make your family a microcosm of health by sending your child to school with satisfying, nutritious lunches and by setting aside at least an hour a day of out-of-school time for active fun.