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Wednesday, 26 June 2013 04:07

Spread the word! Free summer meals

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.

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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.

Her new book is available on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble, listed at only $2.99 on both sites.

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Tuesday, 30 April 2013 10:02

High School Hustle: Who is failing gym?

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.

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Thursday, 07 February 2013 18:47

City schools score "F" in PE

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.

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Tuesday, 05 February 2013 15:26

Rally for more phys ed in city schools

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.

 

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Thursday, 11 October 2012 14:25

City-as-School students launch Lunch Line

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.

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Tuesday, 21 August 2012 15:44

Back to school with asthma & allergies

For some families, back to school means new clothes and school supply shopping. But if your child has asthma, food allergies or any condition that requires medication in school, you’ll have to add something else to the list: medical forms. You may need the Medication Administration Form (MAF), Asthma Action Plan, or a Section 504 form to ensure your child has a safe school experience

The MAF allows students to receive the medications they need at school. The Asthma Action Plan is developed with your doctor to help control your child’s asthma. But too few families have these forms. According to the New York City Department of Health, in 2009, only 65% of children who should have a form on file actually did. Food allergies can be fatal, as in the case of a Canadian school girl who died at school because her condition was not properly recognized by school officials.

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Wednesday, 27 June 2012 12:04

Moms piloted successful compost program

Five Manhattan moms started composting programs in their schools' cafeterias this year that saved 450 pounds of food waste from landfills daily and reduced the volume of cafeteria garbage by 85% in eight schools over four months.

The parents, members of the District 3 Green Schools Group, were part of a pilot program designed to test the viability of separating and composting food waste – including meat and dairy, kitchen scraps, and sugar cane food service trays.

"We were upset that we were paying for sugar cane compostable trays and they were being thrown in the garbage," said Emily Fano, a parent at PS 166, one of the eight participating schools in four buildings.

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I read Alan Schwartz's frightening front page New York Times piece on the kind of Sunday night when I could have used a performance boost myself – something I'm sure lots of working parents feel in the waning weekend hours.

Oh, for a rush of adrenaline to finish unwanted chores in full efficiency mode, instead of a lazy desire to watch the Mad Men season finale curled up with a glass of wine.

Yet here it was, nearly midnight, and I still had stories to edit, laundry to fold, school lunches to make and those endless permission slips and end-of-the-year forms to fill out.

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My family's turn to provide afternoon snacks for my daughter’s 1st-grade class comes up next week, and I'm anxiously awaiting the backlash. When you make dietary choices for 23 New York City kids, only one of whom is yours, some other parent will often take exception.

It's easy to frame the classroom snack debate in broad terms such as cupcakes vs. carrot sticks. The prevalence of sugary cupcakes in elementary classrooms received so much attention that one school district banned them outright. But cupcakes are (forgive me for mixing food terms) a red herring. You don't give a kid a cupcake and kid yourself you're serving health food.

The problem occurs when the little kids are served food that appears healthy but is actually more dessert than snack.

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