By Rachel Clark
By Allison Coleman, program manager at the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), and Ava DeBovis, national network manager at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. This post was originally published on NRPA's Open Space blog.
In February 2014, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) launched Commit to Health, a campaign devoted to creating healthier out-of-school time (OST) programs in local parks and recreation. This month, we’re celebrating three years of successful implementation, great partnerships, new resources, and stories from communities across the country!
Over the last three years, park and recreation agencies have committed to implementing the Healthy Eating Physical Activity (HEPA) standards at their OST sites. The HEPA standards are things like ensuring that a fruit or vegetable is served at every meal, making sure that kids are getting 60 minutes of physical activity in a summer camp program, and providing drinking water at all times to youth and staff. Through implementation of these standards, more than 1270 park and recreation sites have provided increased access to healthy foods and new opportunities for physical activity for more than 228,000 youth.
While the impact numbers alone are impressive, there are many reasons to celebrate this initiative—new partnerships have been created, new resources have been developed, and families across the county are eating healthy and moving more.
Key partnerships have created even larger impacts
In parks and recreation, we know how important partnerships are to the success of a program. Commit to Health has helped to spark numerous partnerships and collaborations across the country. From local agencies working in collaboration with state health departments, school districts, volunteer groups, YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs, to national partnerships with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and Partnership for a Healthier America, new relationships have flourished.
By Luci Manning
Thirteen youths competed this weekend to see who could come up with the healthiest, most interesting recipe in the Recipe Rescue competition, part of an afterschool program run by the Department of Youth and Community Development and Compass. The students chopped, mashed, baked and diced their ingredients to cook up recipes like basil chicken burgers and baked sweet potato fries. The aim of the competition was to develop student interest in culinary arts and dietary awareness, according to the Daily News.
An afterschool program is helping struggling students in Bradley County Schools rediscover the fun in academia. The program, Big City University, focuses its attention on students from low-income families and those who are failing two or more subjects at school, pairing them with academic tutors and leading fun enrichment classes in science, art and physical education. “We focus on character education, academics and on building and growing the community,” director Stephanie Reffner told the Cleveland Daily Banner.
Robots, catapults, miniature tanks and other clever inventions were on display at Los Angeles Unified’s Northwest STEAM Fest 2017, a tech showcase for students in San Fernando Valley Schools. Students from more than 100 schools in the area came to the event to show off their creations from their extracurricular science, technology, engineering, art and math programs. “It’s all in the name of science. Engineering. What I think is cool,” 15-year old Amanda Basinger, who built a da Vinci-inspired machine that fires off ping-pong balls, told the Daily News of Los Angeles.
Young women in the K.E.Y. Zone afterschool Girls’ Group had the chance to meet with a female role model last week, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson. Mayor Larson spoke to the girls about her job and what it’s like to be a woman in a leadership position, bolstering their self-confidence and encouraging them to pursue whatever career they want when they grow up. “For the past several weeks we’ve been talking to the girls about what it means to be a leader and how you can become a leader for something that you’re passionate about,” Girl’s Club leader Shelby Chmielecki told the Duluth Budgeteer. “I think it’s really important for the girls to see a woman leader who works at the local level and to see that it’s an attainable goal.”
The Maryland Out of School Time Network held their seventh annual statewide conference on January 5 & 6 in Ellicott City, Md., celebrating the community of out-of-school time practitioners that MOST affectionately calls “OST Heroes.”
The two-day conference was jam-packed with informative workshops, resources from various exhibitors and the first annual MOST awards ceremony. I had the distinct pleasure of moderating a healthy behaviors panel, “Healthy Behaviors: Connecting Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Partnerships for OST,” with experts from the Alliance for Healthier Generation, Giant Food, John Hopkins Urban Health Institute, Leveling the Playing Field, and Maryland Extension Food Supplement Nutrition Education.
The panel had three objectives:
- Build awareness. The prevalence of childhood in Maryland reflects the national average, where approximately one in three children ages two to 19 is overweight or obese. Since the rate of childhood obesity has tripled over the past three decades and children are now more likely to acquire risk factors for cardiovascular disease, building awareness of the issue is imperative. The panel also highlighted the sometimes overlooked relationship between food insecurity and obesity.
- Celebrate the network’s healthy eating and physical activity successes. In 2013, through a grant from the Maryland Food Bank provided by the Giant Food Foundation, MOST became the first statewide healthy out-of-school time intermediary to bring healthy eating and physical activity resources, training, and technical assistance to Maryland out-of-school time programs. As a result of the work of three Healthy Behaviors VISTAs and several partnerships that have developed over time, MOST was able to introduce the Healthy Out-of-School Time (HOST) Framework, based on the National Afterschool Association’s Healthy Eating and Physical Activity standards, to 30 afterschool sites.
- Take action. Since childhood obesity has become a national epidemic, we can no longer limit our prevention efforts to traditional school hours but must extend our efforts to before and after the school bell rings. To facilitate these efforts, MOST used this panel to inspire OST providers throughout Maryland to adopt the HOST Framework, become a healthy out-of-school time site and engage in the MOST Network’s Healthy Behaviors Learning Community.
The Maryland Out of School Time Network has done impactful work around Healthy Eating and Physical Activity and can be a valuable resource to other networks (and afterschool programs) looking to create and support heathier out-of-school time environments. Way to go, MOST!
By Luci Manning
A $30 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education will be used to fight poverty and build a supportive community for young people in a West Philadelphia neighborhood. Drexel University will coordinate the initiative in partnership with the city of Philadelphia and area nonprofits. Philadelphia was one of six cities to be awarded the grant, according to The Triangle. “These grants will provide cradle-to-career support for at-risk children in communities across the country, offering meaningful resources that will help them achieve their potential,” Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a statement.
Starting this semester, all students at a handful of Cullman County Schools will be able to receive a free afterschool meal, regardless of need and whether they attend the school where the meal is served. “There are a lot of kids who are at school later in the day. All your athletic teams; the band; many of the extracurricular groups—when those kids stay for practice, they can have an extra meal without having to wait until they get home,” Chief School Financial Officer Ed Roberson told the Cullman Times. “It’s really just a great program for a lot of students, for a lot of reasons.”
Writing in the Idaho Statesman, Idaho AfterSchool Network director Marie Hattaway urges state lawmakers to bolster out-of-school time programs in their policies: “Too often as we discuss quality education and its role in the future workforce, we just look to what is offered in the classroom.… It is imperative that policymakers and stakeholders consider partnerships with out-of-school programs to achieve statewide education goals, especially with STEM, workforce and literacy skills…. Idaho invests millions in education, millions in the 20 percent of time spent in the classroom. The other 80 percent of the time deserves strong consideration in state policies and budget. As the state strives to hit key educational benchmarks and goals, out-of-school time must not be overlooked.”
Students in the Durango Gametime afterschool and summer programs will learn to play chess and checkers on a large scale, thanks to the hard work and generosity of a 17-year-old Eagle Scout. Trever Snodgrass built the life-size chess and checkerboards himself and donated them to Chapman Hill, the Mason Center and the Durango Community Recreation Center as part of an Eagle Scout community service project, hoping they will ignite the youths’ imaginations. “When we first brought them in, the looks on their faces—it’s nice to know they’re enjoying it,” he told the Durango Herald. “I think the kids are going to love it.
By Luci Manning
Establishing a Culture of Peace (Indianapolis Star, Indiana)
Students in the Martin Luther King Center afterschool program now have a safe space to relax, take a few deep breaths and escape the drama of their daily lives. The community center decided to create the new Peace Room to give students a place to wind down, read and meditate after they finish their homework. The room is filled with peace-themed art, books and beanbag chairs. “We’ve dedicated this as the no-drama zone,” center director Allison Luthe told the Indianapolis Star. In addition to the afterschool program, the center also tries to engage parents with services like job training, co-working space and financial coaching.
One Zesty Food Fight (St. Joseph Herald-Palladium, Michigan)
Some 130 students from five area high schools stewed beans, chopped vegetables and fried cornbread at the eighth annual Chili Cook-Off at the Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College on Friday. The competition gave students a chance to meet their peers in other culinary programs and show off the skills they have been learning in their cooking classes. Being in a college setting also may have inspired some of the students to start thinking about their future. “It can get them excited about college,” Chris Woodruff, chair of the college’s Hospitality and Management Faculty and program, told the Herald-Palladium. “Maybe they haven’t even thought about it yet. It’s like, ‘This is fun. I can do this. I may to do this for a career.’”
From Syrian Refugee to U.S. Doctor, He Helps Shape Teens’ Dreams (CNN)
When Dr. Heval Mohammad Kelli arrived in the U.S. as a Syrian refugee at age 17, he worked as a dishwasher on nights and weekends to help support his family, hoping to one day save enough money to go to medical school. Now, he trains as a cardiology fellow at Emory University, one block away from that restaurant, and mentors high school refugees who want to follow in his footsteps. “I feel the obligation as a physician that my service goes beyond patient care: I need to invest in the community,” Kelli told CNN. The Young Physicians Initiative is an afterschool program that partners Emory University medical students with young refugees from around the world to inspire them to pursue a career in medicine, no matter the barriers.
After-School Programs Are Vital for Austin’s Children (Austin-American Statesman, Texas)
Karen LaShelle, executive director of Creative Action, lays out the benefits of afterschool programs in an Austin-American Statesman op-ed: "One big reason so many children aren’t some place safe and constructively engaged is that we don’t have enough after-school programs across the state...The Del Valle school district, located just east of Austin, has risen to the challenge. All of its 12 schools provide after-school programs for youths in K-12th grade...They can get help with homework; act in a play; dance in a ballet folklorico group; learn about various science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) topics; play soccer of chess; plant and harvest a garden and more. And they do all those things under the watchful eyes of caring adults...We can only hope that leaders in other communities will find a way to follow Del Valle's example."
By Luci Manning
Two Marin high schoolers are building a love for the environment in younger students through a surfing summer camp. The free program targets underprivileged preteens who may not know much about environmental stewardship. Students receive more than just surfing lessons at the camp—they also learn about warming ocean temperatures and ocean life. Scott Tye, chairman of the Marin chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, told the Marin Independent Journal, “The goal is to preserve and maintain our beaches and teach about it in a positive way.” The program operates under the umbrella of the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation.
Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe makes the case for summer learning programs in the Rutland Herald: “Summer doesn’t always promise the same opportunities for all of Vermont’s students, especially those students who live in poverty…. It doesn’t have to be this way. We know that access to good nutrition, health care, responsive adults and safe and supportive environments can help even the most challenged child thrive and learn. If we don’t provide these conditions, we are essentially manufacturing inequity at the level of the brain…. High-quality summer learning programs and strong after-school programs, coupled with food programs, will go a long way towards narrowing our opportunity and achievement gaps.”
Boston Afterschool and Beyond partnered with Outward Bound, Boston Public Schools and the National Parks Service to put together a top-notch, free summer learning program for low-income students in Boston. The program, hosted on Thompson Island, uses the surrounding natural environment to engage some 70 students in hands-on science lessons. Instructors try to take a holistic approach to their teaching, giving students the skills to reason and analyze and apply the lessons to their everyday lives, rather than just drill them with facts from a book. “If a student isn’t excelling in one kind of environment September through June, why would go and stick them back in that same environment for the whole summer?” Boston Afterschool and Beyond summer learning program director David McAuley told the Christian Science Monitor.
Statistics show that 87 percent of venture capital-backed startup founders are white—but this doesn’t faze the Young Hustlers, a group of minority preteens who started their own business making music and selling branded clothing. The business grew out of the 15 Seeds afterschool program, which provides underprivileged students a space to explore what they’re passionate about. The program gives youngsters, most of whom live in public housing, a chance to make money without resorting to gangs, drugs or violence. “When people hear where you live, where you’re from, they think they know you,” group hip-hop artist Dominique told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But they don’t know…. We’re making a difference. We’re entrepreneurs.”
By Luci Manning
Employees at the Cornerstone Community Center got help providing summer meals to students last week from two Tulsa city councilors. The center’s Summer Café program offers breakfast and lunch weekdays throughout the summer to ensure students are getting healthy, filling meals when school is out. “The program itself (Summer Café) is hugely important,” Councilor Anna America told Tulsa World. “We’ve got thousands and thousands of kids who don’t have basic needs met. For many of these kids, during the school year they’ll get breakfast and lunch from the school. Over the summer, it’s a huge problem.”
Various Topeka community organizations last week came together to put on a special “Meet and Eat” event to celebrate Summer Learning Day and promote literacy and healthy eating habits for students. The event was held at Boom Comics, which handed out free comics to participating children. Harvesters and the Kansas Department of Education’s summer food service program collaborated to provide a free meal for students while other groups gave out free books and put together games. “It’s not just a positive for the communities that are involved here – the small business owner, the nonprofits – but the kids win. And that’s what we’re about,” Harvesters government programs manager Angela Jeppesen told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “We want these kids to win. We want them to be positively supported by the community.”
Teens have been using the Troy Recreation Hall (better known as the Rec) to play basketball, work on homework and catch up with their friends for 75 years. “The Rec has survived over the years because it has had tremendous community support as well as its ability to meet the ever changing needs of the youth of Troy,” Rec board president Andrew Wannemacher told Dayton Daily News. The Rec offers free afterschool activities for middle school and high school students, including basketball, dodgeball, billiards, ping-pong and video games, and also provides computers and a homework room for students to get some extra work done.
A new program launching in New York City will give 4,000 students from underserved areas the opportunity to explore STEM fields this summer. Last week, City School Chancellor Carmen Fariña unveiled the STEM Summer in the City classes, which will teach topics like computer coding, video game design and robotics to students in grades two through ten. According to the Daily News, Fariña sees STEM and summer learning as “critical pieces of putting our students on the path to college and careers,” especially for at-risk children who may not otherwise have such opportunities.
With summer 2016 in full swing, summer learning programs are again gearing up, and more than just minds will be filled before school starts up again in the fall. Once again, millions of children will receive meals through the US Department of Agriculture’s Summer Meals program: ensuring that kids are nourished and healthy while they explore, learn and grow this summer.
Earlier this month, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) released its latest Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation report, finding that summer nutrition programs nationally saw a modest increase of 11,000 participants from July 2014 to 2015. These numbers come after three years of significant program growth. According to the report, on an average day in July 2015, summer nutrition programs served lunch to nearly 3.2 million children across the country, equaling 15.8 low-income children participating for every 100 that receive a free or reduced-price lunch. The report again points to the challenges that summer learning programs face in operating the Summer Meals program and the barriers to participation for many families.
One way to improve these numbers, according to the FRAC report, is through Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation currently being debated by Congress. The Afterschool Alliance supports a key proposal that can be included in the legislation, streamlining meal programs by allowing sponsors to provide food year-round, rather than in two separate programs during the school year and summer.
Summer learning providers are also a key player in boosting participation in the program. Currently it is too early to see how the numbers will translate to Summer 2016, but this is the time to build momentum. To find smart strategies for closing the hunger gap and increasing participation in summer meal programs, check out the USDA’s wide range of new and updated materials to make summer learning and summer meals better than ever in 2016.