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by Karra Puccia
During 10 months of the year, hundreds of thousands of New York City kids eat free school breakfasts and lunches. These meals constitute a vital lifeline for families with already-stretched food budgets. So for many such families, the June 28th last day of public school classes may be less about planning summer fun for the kids and more about facing a serious months-long gap in their nutrition.
It doesn't have to be that way. Each year, the federal Summer Food Service Program (which New York City's Department of Education administers under the name "NYC Summer Meals") provides free breakfasts and lunches to all kids 18 and younger—without registration, documents or ID required. From June 29th—the first full day of summer school vacation—right through September 2nd, Summer Meals will be offered weekdays at public schools, Parks Department outdoor pools, New York City Housing Authority complexes, libraries, food pantries, soup kitchens, community organizations and other locations throughout the city. There will also be four mobile food trucks providing meals seven days a week.
Unfortunately, the Summer Meals program can seem like the world's best-kept secret. Food Bank For New York City is in a position to know. We serve nearly 1.4 million people—almost one out of every five New New Yorkers –through a network of food pantries, soup kitchens and community-based charities. And our October 2013 report, "Hunger's New Normal: Redefining Emergency in Post-Recession New York City," which was based on interviews with more than 1,200 people using food pantries and soup kitchens in all five boroughs, found that a whopping two-thirds of families using those resources don't take advantage of Summer Meals. The number one reason? They don't even know about it.
by Women's Club of New York
As a parent of a student in a NYC public school, are you curious about what sex education—if any—your child is being taught?
Did you know that 44.5 percent of New York's male high school students and 39.6 percent of female students are sexually active—but a third of sexually active boys report that they do not use condoms? Nearly 80 percent of sexually active girls say they do not use oral contraceptives. New York's teen pregnancy rate is the 11th highest among the 50 states. And about one in three cases of new sexually transmitted infections diagnosed in New York each year occurs among residents 19 and younger, according to a Center for Disease Controls study cited in "Birds, Bees and Bias: How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York's Students," a NYCLU 2012 report.
In 2011, the NYC Department of Education was mandated to teach sex education to middle and high school students. Unfortunately we do not truly know how well schools are living up to this mandate.
Women's City Club of New York is collecting information to determine whether, and how, New York City public schools are teaching required sex education. To help ensure that all city public schools have comprehensive sex education, we're asking public school parents to fill out a brief survey.
The deadline to complete this survey has been extended to Friday, May 15. We value the input of parents as essential stakeholder in NYC children's school-based sex education.
Founded in 1915, WCC is celebrating its centennial as a nonpartisan, nonprofit, multi-issue activist organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of all New Yorkers. WCC shapes public policy to promote responsive government through education, issue analysis, advocacy and civic participation.
Perhaps that technology camp you enrolled your nature-loving daughter in just wasn’t quite right, or maybe you’ve noticed your teenager spending too many summer days staring at the wall—or a screen. Luckily, there are still lots of free, engaging summer classes and programs in all five boroughs for kids of all ages. It’s not too late! And don't forget to check out our listing of free educational enrichment programs year-round.
NYC Parks—Free Outdoor Pools
Visit one of New York City's free outdoor pools. Through Sept. 1, NYC Parks’ outdoor pools are offering amenities including free summer swim programs for all ages and abilities and free, healthy summer meals provided by USDA through SchoolFood, a part of the NYC Department of Education for all children 18 years old and under. Download a flyer to find out more about the local pool in your school district. For more information, visit nyc.gov/parks.
All children, ages 18 and under, may receive free breakfast and lunch every weekday from now until Aug. 29, 2014 at thousands of locations including schools, parks, pools, libraries and New York City Housing Authority complexes. Four mobile food trucks will operate seven days a week throughout the summer at popular places for families.
As a former food stamp recipient and a mom who uses great savvy to feed my three kids, I was encouraged and empowered at this week’s Hunger Crisis Forum to hear Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank for New York City say: “No one should feel shame just because they don’t have enough money [to adequately feed their family].” The Hunger Crisis Forum took place the same week that the annual Free Summer Meals Program [PDF] kicks off.
An all-female panel of CEO’s discussed rising food prices and the increasing number of parents struggling to feed their families. In fact, they said, many educated and middle class families find themselves using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the first time.
At least 80% of students in NYC public school qualify for free lunch. In response to the growing need, the United States Department of Agriculture is spending $400 million on the Summer Meals Program which starts in New York City on June 27. Yet only 16 percent of eligible children are expected to participate. Why? According to speakers at the forum, that "stigma" and "embarrassment" often keep people from taking advantage of the services.
Valerie Watnick, who blogs for Insideschools.org on environmental issues affecting schools, released a new book this month: This Sh!t May Kill You: 52 Ways to Make Smarter Decisions and Protect Your Family from Everyday Environmental Toxins.
The book contains 52 action items to help safeguard your family from environmental toxins, including a section dedicated to schools. Professor Watnick is the chair of the Law Department at Baruch College, where she teaches environmental law and business law.
Watnick, a public school parent, is a former co-president of the PTA at PS 199, one of the first city schools that was found to have light fixtures contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) in 2008. She has subsequently written about efforts to rid the schools of the contaminated fixtures, including a lawsuit brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest that accused the Department of Education of "dragging its feet" to remove suspect fixtures from more than 730 schools. Last week, a settlement was reached and the DOE announced it would accelerate the removal process, completing it by 2016.
When report cards arrive, vigilant parents turn immediately to what could be a confounding and heart-stopping grade in a subject with no bearing on academic averages: Gym.
That's right, gym, also known as physical education or PE. At least a dozen high school seniors I know are either failing it, coming close or getting lackluster marks like 70. And some of these are terrific students, headed to top colleges.
Can schools please stop giving out grades in gym?
I agree that if students repeatedly don't show up to gym class, they shouldn't pass. I also understand the frustration gym teachers must have when kids show up for gym in impossibly tight skinny jeans or skimpy dresses and platform shoes.
Six in ten city schools have physical education classes only once or twice a week for 45 minutes, way below what the state education department mandates, according to a new American Heart Association (AHA) report based on a survey of public and charter schools in all five boroughs.
It's the city's youngest students who are most likely to miss out on vital PE time, says the Women's City Club of New York (WCC), a non-profit civic organization, that advocates for more physical education in all schools. Elementary grades do not have enough teachers citywide to meet state PE regulations, based on WCC's analysis of Independent Budget Office data. Yet, according to New York state regulations, the youngest children are supposed to get the most exercise. The rules call for daily physical educaton for grades K-3, three times a week for 4th-6th graders and 90 minutes a week for older students.
Middle school students have enough gym teachers and high schools, which require students to earn two PE credits in order to graduate, have a surplus of PE teachers, according to the IBO data.
City public schools with tight budgets and shared buildings struggle to provide adequate physical education, especially in our era of high stakes testing.
But prioritizing test-prep over PE is misguided, say advocates of physical education in schools. Studies show that, "not only does PE help curb obesity, but it also increases test scores and grades," said Amy Schwartz, chairperson of the Physical Education in City Public Schools Task Force, a project of the Womens City Club of New York.
On Thursday at 3 pm, on the steps of City Hall, the Womens City Club will join forces with the American Heart Association and City Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Robert Jackson, Letitia James and Gale Brewer to ask the city's Department of Education to right their phys ed wrongs and bring city schools up to state-mandated standards. The Women's City Club will release a new report, which "raises questions about the fairness and equity of PE provisions in City public schools," according to Womens City Club's website. The American Heart Association will release theresults of its survey of PE classes in city schools.
In 2011, Womens City Club prompted Comptroller John Liu to audit the city's schools, revealing that most do not meet state-mandated PE standards: daily physical educaton for grades K-3, three times a week for 4th-6th graders and 90 minutes a week for older students. This latest report is based on data from the city's Internal Budget Office.
What's on your child's school lunch tray this week? Want to improve it?
Check out LUNCH LINE, a mobile app and website which launched this week, created by students at City-as-School High School. LUNCH LINE allows you to post pictures and comment on your school's daily school lunch page and to join or start a school group to organize improvements and advocate for better food.
"It's a tool for parents," said City-as senior Emma Jenney who was one of 12 students in Naima Freitas' biology class last spring who designed the app with the help of an outside programmer and designer. "It's exposing school food in America right now which has been kind of a hidden thing."
As part of the project, students visited elementary school lunchrooms to see what young children eat and how much they throw away, she said. The students compared the average cafeteria meal offerings to those provided at some 30 schools which subscribe to Wellness in the Schools programs. Wellness schools offer alternative menus. They use the same ingredients as those provided by the Education Department's Office of School Food, but they prepare the meals differently. And they train the kitchen staff on how to cook healthier meals.