Excellence in School Wellness Awards to 4 City Connects Boston Schools

Last month, Boston Public Schools (BPS) bestowed Excellence in School Wellness Awards to 13 schools, four of which were City Connects schools. Congratulations to the Edison K-8, JFK Elementary, Quincy Elementary, and Trotter Elementary schools, whose innovations promoting student health and wellness were commended at the Sixth Annual BPS Health and Wellness Summit!

“Collectively, these schools demonstrated innovative efforts in creating connections to improve the school environment to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” said [BPS Superintendent]  Dr. Johnson. “For a school to be successful in its mission to provide an education for all students, it must prioritize their physical, mental, and emotional health.”

Health is one of the four domains central to City Connects (along with academics, social/emotional, and family). With the support of the New Balance Foundation, our School Site Coordinators lead school-based health and wellness initiatives that teach students how to make healthy choices about nutrition, exercise, and social relationships. The New Balance Foundation Health & Wellness program increases students’ health literacy, resulting in better behavior, work habits, and effort in the classroom. These skills help students combat critical issues like obesity and bullying—both in and out of the classroom. In short, healthier students are better students.

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Report Gives Massachusetts “D” Grade on Youth Physical Activity

A new report from the Boston Foundation and NEHI, a nonprofit, independent health policy institute, handed out grades to Massachusetts across a range of areas in its “Healthy People/Healthy Economy” [pdf] annual report card. Sadly, Massachusetts earned a lackluster “D” in the category of youth physical activity. The report explains why:

  • In 2009, one in every four students in Massachusetts did not participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per week and almost half—42%—of Massachusetts public school students did not attend any physical education classes.
  • According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 18 percent of Massachusetts schools offer daily gym classes, compared with a 30% national average.
  • According to a July 2011 report, Massachusetts is at the bottom of all states when it comes to physical activity for high
    school students.

To try to improve on this front, the Coalition has filed legislation urging state standards to require at least 30 minutes of physical activity during the school day, every day, for all students.

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Three Massachusetts Groups Awarded “Promise Neighborhood” Planning Grants

The U.S. Department of Education yesterday awarded 21 “Promise Neighborhood” planning grants to nonprofit organizations and universities across the country, three of which are based in Massachusetts. The one-year grants of up to $500,000 are designed to help these groups create plans to provide comprehensive “cradle to career” services for children.

“Communities across the country recognize that education is the one true path out of poverty,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “These Promise Neighborhoods applicants are committed to putting schools at the center of their work to provide comprehensive services for young children and students.”

The Massachusetts winners are Community Day Care Center of Lawrence, Inc. in Lawrence, the United Way of Central Massachusetts in Worcester, and the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston.

As reported in the Boston Globe, “the $500,000 grant to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a community-based organization, represents a major milestone in replicating the Harlem Children’s Zone locally. For years, different groups of city leaders, philanthropists, and community activists have toured the Harlem program, returning each time to Boston energized, but unable to sustain the momentum.”

One of City Connects’ schools, Orchard Gardens, is located in Dudley Street’s target neighborhood of Roxbury, which is also part of Boston Mayor Tom Menino’sCircle of Promise,” a 5-square-mile area in where the Mayor and Boston Public Schools have been trying to set up a coalition to provide wraparound services for children. Dudley Street will partner with the City of Boston, nonprofit groups, philanthropists, after-school providers, religious leaders, and universities to advance this agenda.

Next year, the President has requested $210 million in his budget, including $200 million to support implementation of Promise Neighborhood projects and $10 million for planning grants for new communities.

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New Report Shows High Rates of Overweight & Obesity in Mass. School Children

A new report released yesterday by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has some alarming results: in eight school districts across the state, more than 40% of students were overweight or obese.

The study was conducted by taking the body mass index, or BMI, of students in grades 1, 4, 7, and 10 in select school districts in the 2008-09 academic year. Children are considered overweight if their BMI is between the 85th and 95th percentile for their age and obese if  their BMI is equal to or greater than the 95th percentile.

The Boston Globe published a chart showing the breakdown by school district. They also reported that “the study, which reflects weight and height measurements for about 110,000 students, for the first time provides data on separate school districts and underscores the role of poverty and affluence in determining weight.” Arlington had the lowest rates of obesity and overweight while Lawrence had the worst; Boston came in 76th out of 80 districts. Eight of the 80 districts had rates of obesity and overweight greater than 40%. For a list of the best and worst ranked districts, see this illustration published in the Globe.

A unique aspect of the City Connects approach to student support is our emphasis on health and wellness. Children living in high-poverty neighborhoods suffer disproportionately from chronic illness and health risks in addition to obesity, which may negatively impact their academic success. With the longstanding support of the New Balance Foundation, City Connects has been able to include health as a core component of student support, paying particular attention to individual student’s health needs, partnering with community health services and programs, and promoting the healthy development of the entire school.

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Massachusetts Ranks #5 in ‘Kids Count’ Data

Kids Coutn Data CenterIn the 2010 Kids Count Data Book, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Massachusetts had the fifth-highest ranking for overall child well-being.

The Kids Count Data Book examines 10 key indicators of child well-being and found that since 2000, half of the indicators showed national improvement: the infant mortality rate, child death rate, teen death rate, teen birth rate, and the percent of teens who were not in school and not high school graduates.

Three indicators showed some worsening nationally, however: the percent of babies born with low birthweight, the child poverty rate, and the percent of children living in single-parent families. And even though the most current data available is from 2008, before the economic recession began, it shows that overall improvements in child well-being that began in the late 90s stalled in the years preceding the current downturn.

Massachusetts fell in the top 10% for seven of the 10 indicators and ranked second for infant mortality rate and the teen birth rate. In the indicator measuring the percent of children living in poverty (defined as an income below $21,834 for a family of four in 2008), Massachusetts saw a 14% decline since 2000. In contrast, the national rate rose 6%, which represents about 1 million more children living below the poverty line in 2008 than in 2000.

Across all of the indicators, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Vermont ranked highest and Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi ranked lowest.

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Survey Illuminates Crime, Bullying in Schools

The National Center for Education Statistics released a report, Student Victimization in U.S. Schools: Results From the 2007 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which offers a wide-ranging view of crime and related victimization in middle and high schools. Of the approximately 5,600 students age 12 through 18 who responded to the survey, about 4.3% reported that they were victims of a crime at school. These students had a higher percentage of:

  • Being the targets of traditional (62%) and electronic (11%) bullying than non-victims (30% and 3%, respectively)
  • Being afraid of attack or harm at school (23%)  than non-victims (4%)
  • Avoiding specific places at school because of fear of attack or harm than non-victims (13% vs. 5%)

Efforts are underway in Massachusetts to prevent all forms of bullying. This past May, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into law legislation that spells out  new anti-bullying measures for teachers, schools, and communities. Also this year, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and  Boston Public Schools began an anti-cyberbullying awareness campaign and launched a website to educate students, families, and teachers. At City Connects, our New Balance Foundation Health and Wellness Curriculum addresses bullying and teaches students skills to prevent bullying in elementary schools.

Quincy & Mission Hill Schools Win National Healthy School Awards

The Josiah Quincy Elementary School and the Mission Hill K-8 School have just been named recipients of bronze level National Recognition Awards from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a partnership between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation. The Healthy Schools Program National Recognition Award is an honor given to acknowledge schools that have implemented changes in order to create healthier school environments.

With one in three US children or teens overweight or obese, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation is working reduce the nationwide prevalence of childhood obesity by 2015.  The Alliance aims to empower kids to make healthy lifestyle choices and to positively affect the places that can make a difference to a child’s health: homes, schools, doctor’s offices, and communities.

Seven Boston Public Schools were recognized. In response to the award, BPS Superintendent Carol R. Johnson said:

“The health and wellness of students in the Boston Public Schools is among our top priorities, and we are pleased to see our schools receiving national recognition for their efforts to fight childhood obesity . These awards reflect the results of an innovative collaboration among the schools, central departments, and partner organizations to increase physical activity and promote good nutrition among students.”

Congratulations to the Quincy and Mission Hill schools!

Mass in Motion grants $85,000 to Boston & Brockton

Mass in MotionThe Mass in Motion campaign, sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), this week awarded $25,000 in wellness grants to Boston and $60,000 to Brockton to improve community health and reduce chronic disease.

DPH says the funding will support community efforts to initiate policy and environmental changes to support healthy eating and active living. Boston and Brockton plan to create or expand existing partnerships among local government, community leaders, faith-based organizations, councils on aging, health care providers, businesses, and others to lead this effort. These two Mass in Motion grants  in addition to the more than $1 million in grants distributed to 12 other communities last year.

“As we kick off the second year of the Mass in Motion campaign, I am thrilled that we are able to continue to help cities and towns make an investment in creating healthier communities,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “We look forward to supporting Boston and Brockton as they bring Mass in Motion to life by successfully and creatively helping city residents make healthy choices and build a stronger Commonwealth.”