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Sustainability and wellness teacher Amy Christianson helps first grade students fill up the water dispensers for the school's chicken coup.

One Chicago charter school sets a healthy example for others

by Katie Hinterlong
Dec 07, 2010

Organically grown fruits and vegetables, daily yoga and a chicken coop.  Not what you would expect to find at a Chicago public school, but the Academy for Global Citizenship is doing something out of the ordinary and hoping that other schools will follow suit.

Each weekday during growing season, the southwest side school serves students students an organic breakfast and lunch, drawing on produce grown in the academy garden. The students help tend the garden as part of an environmental sustainability curriculum.   

“We grow flowers, corn and tomatoes,” said first grader Amelia McCabe.  “But the corn is my favorite because it’s really juicy.”

Joining a growing wellness movement whose most famous patron is First Lady Michelle Obama, a Chicago Public Schools graduate who is the face of the "Let's Move" campaign, the academy also established a goal of at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. State education authorities in Illinois require that K-12 students participate in physical activity each day, but set no minimum amount of time. 

Tending the garden is part of the physical routine. 

"We have a bunch of centers outside," said first grader Madeline Arrendondo, "like running, [helping feed the] chickens, watering, sweeping out the greenhouse.”  

Amy Christianson, a sustainability and wellness teacher at the academy believes the school's success lies in teaching children where their food comes from and how what they eat affects how they feel. 

"The kids are happy and more well adjusted since they spend time outside learning where their food comes from,” Christianson said. "I integrate gardening and other physical activities into our time out here and when we plant things I pick vegetables they wouldn’t normally see at the grocery store.” 

Christianson plants purple carrots, yellow tomatoes, and miniature cucumbers to keep the children interested in the garden and encourage them to try new foods. 

Chicago's Healthy Schools Campaign has partnered with CPS to bring healthy changes to the school district. Among the changes: Reducing salt and eliminating dessert-type breakfast items, full-fat salad dressings and mayonnaise.  

CPS has made dramatic changes to the food menus and the food that is being served,” said Tara Kennon, spokeswoman for the Healthy Schools Campaign.  “We are also continuing to encourage schools to offer recess and other healthy changes.” 

The Academy for Global Citizenship was founded as a K - 8 school toempower children to become active citizens and to teach students how to make positive, healthy choices.  In July the academy became a CPS charter school.   

"We are excited to be a model school and are passionate about extending the lessons learned here to the rest of the [CPS] system,” said Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, the founder and executive director of the school.  “We have developed a sustainable schools handbook and we welcome people at other schools to learn more.” 

According to Ippel, 80 percent of students live under the poverty level and reside in the neighborhood surrounding the academy.  About 70 percent of students are Hispanic and 15 percent African American.

According to a recent obesity study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, blacks and Hispanics had a substantially higher prevalence of obesity when compared to whites.  

With the growing rate of childhood obesity, Ippel and Kennon hope more CPS schools take notice of the academy's approach to education and healthy living . Although the academy has far surpassed Illinois standard for health and fitness, smaller scale programs at other CPS schools could benefit students of all ages, they believe.