Health Justice Report

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Health Justice Report A Community Analysis of Nutrition, Food Access and Physical Activity in Denver Public Schools by Padres & J贸venes Unidos

with support from


Padres & Jóvenes Unidos With roots in the struggle for educational justice, Padres & Jóvenes Unidos has evolved into a multi-issue organization led by people of color who work for educational excellence, racial justice for youth, immigrant rights and quality health for all. Both Padres and Jóvenes Unidos build power to challenge the root causes of discrimination, racism and inequity by exposing the economic, social and institutional basis for injustice as well as developing effective strategies to realize meaningful change.

The Praxis Project The Praxis Project is a nonprofit movement support intermediary that supports organizing and change work at local, regional and national levels. Focused on movement building for fundamental change, our mission is to build healthy communities by changing the power relationships between people of color and the institutional structures that affect their lives.

Acknowledgements First and foremost, we would like to recognize the Padres & Jóvenes Unidos parent members who dedicated time and energy to produce this report. From data gathering to providing critical feedback and revisions, their commitment to participatory research provided invaluable insights and grounding for this report. Their intrepid spirit in the fight for health justice in our communities inspires us all. We would also like to thank The Praxis Project for their solidarity and critical support in producing this report. Others who were vital to this effort include the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Denver Public Schools, Academia Ana Marie Sandoval, Valverde Elementary, Cougar Run Elementary and Denver Public Health.

Introduction By building a strong community voice made up of students, parents and elected officials, Padres has created significant change at the local, state and national level. Padres won new College Preparatory Graduation Requirements in Denver Public Schools, forced the passage of new District discipline policies designed to eliminate racial disparities and zero-tolerance practices in Denver Public Schools, and recently won a statewide legislative campaign to End the School-to-Jail Track in Colorado. In addition, parent and youth members organized for the rights of immigrant students and helped defeat an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that would have eliminated bilingual education. The same parent and student leaders who have worked for the Freedom to Learn are now organizing for an equally important and urgent issue in our community – the right to healthy food and exercise.

The Issue: Our Youth are at Risk! National studies have shown that childhood obesity is rising at an alarming rate. Children as young as two are developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and type-2 diabetes. In Colorado, 26% of all children are overweight or obese. In Denver, this figure rises to 34%1. The future of our communities depends on the health of our children – and the outlook is bleak. In low-income communities of color, 50% of all children born in 2000 will develop diabetes within their lifetime. Poor children in Colorado (ages 2-14) are three times more likely to be overweight than higher income children, and Latino children are three times more likely to be overweight than their White peers2.

Currently, elementary school children who are 5 to 11 years old and are obese or overweight – are at risk of

Developing high blood pressure, sleep disorders, low self-esteem and depression – which are the leading

Causes of life-threatening illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

The Impact With over one-third of all children in Denver living in poverty, low-income families are struggling for their basic needs and access to affordable fruits and vegetables. Today, more than one-fourth of all families in Colorado rely on cheaper, low-nutrition foods that are high in fat and sugar. Moreover, the current economic crisis has forced parents to work extra jobs and longer hours to support their families, leaving little time to exercise or prepare healthy, homemade meals. Many low-income communities also face limited access to safe places to exercise in their neighborhoods. As a result, parents have been forced to raise their children with unhealthy, highly processed foods and little physical activity. This has led to alarming numbers of children developing life-threatening illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. The impact of this crisis has real consequences for our communities. Because nearly all children who eat both breakfast and lunch at school rely on schools for approximately half of their daily caloric intake3, the quality of food schools serve plays a monumental role in student health. Schools are also key to providing physical activity opportunities to students during the school day. All in all, schools are poised to improve student health and academic performance by providing students with healthy meals and opportunities for daily exercise.

DPS has close to 75,000 students, 72% of whom qualify for free and reduced lunch. The District serves over 53,200 meals (including breakfast and lunch) each day and plays a crucial role in the health and success of our children. Our parents, youth, and neighbors believe that our schools should not only support our students' health, but play an active role in improving it. Through participatory research and popular surveys, Padres & Jóvenes Unidos members bring to light the critical health realities facing our community and calls for change in Denver Public Schools. We are organizing for Health Justice.

Parent-Led Participatory Research Padres’ parent leaders designed and conducted a survey of 476 DPS parents. The survey focused on two critical issues:

1) Access to nutritious food 2) Physical activity in schools

Improve Food Access: Recess Before Lunch When young students have time scheduled to play and exercise first and eat lunch after, they do not feel rushed to finish their food or skip their meal; they have time for both. Reversing the schedule results in calmer, more attentive students. Students eat more of their meals, consume more nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, and milk, and they have fewer behavioral problems in the afternoon. Teachers also gain an average of 10-15 minutes of instructional time due to the calmer transition from lunch to classroom learning4.

“With recess before lunch, children eat more of their lunch. After lunch they are calmer and ready to engage. Less time is spent on transitioning and more time on learning.” -Jo Ann Trujillo-Hays, DPS Principal, Academia Ana Marie Sandoval

Should Your Child’s School Have Recess Before Lunch? DPS Parents Weigh In... When asked if they would like their child’s school to have Recess Before Lunch (RBL), a majority of parents (81%) stated that they would like to give students more focused time to eat by implementing RBL.

81% Yes

12% No 7% Not Sure

Improve Food Access: Breakfast in the Classroom Serving breakfast in the classroom provides much-needed nutrition to students and improves student performance and academic achievement. Charlee Roberts, a Douglas County Wellness Coordinator, reported that when Clayton Elementary School served breakfast in the classroom, the school saw drastic changes in student performance. With over 90% of students receiving breakfast, student tardies dropped by 15%, discipline referrals declined by 50%, and teachers reported increased participation, focus and endurance in their students. Despite these proven gains in student achievement, only 27 out of 197 schools in DPS currently serve breakfast in the classroom.

Improve Food Quality

The Results of Breakfast in the Classroom: Clayton Elementary 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0%

Student Participation Increased to 90%

Discipline Referrals Down by 50%

Student Tardies Down by 15%

Parents expressed concerns about the unhealthy, processed food frequently served in their children’s lunchrooms. Pizza, hamburgers, and corn dogs still outnumber fresh fruits and vegetables in many schools. By providing healthy meals to all students, schools can help improve academic achievement and serve as key allies in the fight for health justice in our community.

Increase Physical Activity Opportunities To successfully improve students' health and academic success, parents are calling for an increase in physical activity in schools. The reduction or elimination of physical education classes, recess time and after-school sports is not only alarming, but dangerous. Many studies have shown that both structured and unstructured time for physical activity has direct implications for children's health, academic performance and their emotional and mental development. Thus, even in the midst of budget cuts, an investment in quality, daily exercise will benefit students in all schools.

Taking Action for Health Justice Over the last three years, Padres members have been educating parents about combating the health crisis in our communities by improving access to healthy foods and increased physical activity in our schools. Members researched and analyzed the best practices in achieving health justice, visiting schools and meeting with DPS administrators to better understand the conditions and develop solutions. Parents reached out to other community members at churches, food fairs, recreation centers, grocery stores, schools, and in their neighborhoods. They have visited over 200 families in their homes, educating parents and children on nutrition and physical activity. Many parents spoke of the need to impact these issues not only in their homes, but throughout their communities and schools, as well.

Proposed Recommendations Rooted in Padres' parent-led research and outreach, the following are proposed recommendations for DPS to increase access to healthy meals and physical activity for all students:

1) Expand Recess Before Lunch; 2) Expand Breakfast-in-the-Classroom; and 3) Ensure that all students have quality scheduled physical activity and recess time during the school day*.

_______________________________________________________________________________________ *Ensuring students are moderately to vigorously active at least 50% of the time during physical education classes.

Additionally, to address the issue of improved nutrition in school meals, our parent leaders and members will continue to monitor DPS efforts and work collaboratively with the District to increase the nutritional value of student meals, including the quality and expansion of salad bars and scratch cooking with fresh ingredients. By working together, parents, students, community members, educators and school administrators have the power to achieve change and reform in the Denver Public Schools. Our collective will and efforts can stem the tide of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in our youth and ensure they are ready and able to learn. Join us in this movement to ensure health justice for our communities and youth. __________________________________________________________________________________________

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment 2008-2010. Colorado Children’s Campaign. July 2007. Childhood Obesity in Colorado: A Growing Problem. 3 When asked if they would like their child’s school to have Recess Before Lunch (RBL), a majority of parents (81%) Mancino, L, Todd, J.E., Guthrie, J., and Bing-Hwan, L. 2010. “How Food Away From Home Affects Children's Diet Quality.” Washington, DC: stated that theyof would like to give students more focused time to eat by implementing RBL. U.S. Department Agriculture. 4 Porowski, Janet and Peggy Antifeaeff. 2006. Thinking Outside the Lunchbox: Analyzing the Effects of the Reverse Lunch Schedule. 1 2

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