Two West Coast Initiatives: Portland, Oregon and Tukwila, Washington

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Portland, Oregon – SUN Community Schools Wellness Initiative

By Diana Hall, County-Wide Support, SUN Community Schools

As part of their holistic approach to promoting academic success for youth and family self-sufficiency, SUN Community Schools (SUN CS) in Portland, Oregon have addressed health issues and provided health services in neighborhood schools since the initiative began in 1999. As the obesity epidemic has emerged over those years, SUN CS have worked to incorporate anti-obesity strategies into the broader wellness efforts at their 64 sites.

SUN CS believes that fighting obesity and chronic diseases must involve a comprehensive approach addressing not only individual behaviors but the environments where children and adults spend a significant part of their days - in schools, in health care settings, worksites and neighborhoods.

Community schools are natural hubs for connecting with students, families and communities to provide nutritious food and promote healthy habits. Two new efforts began in 2010: the SUN Child and Family Hunger Relief Project and the SUN Wellness Initiative. The SUN Community Schools coordinate and provide a wide array of programs and services related to wellness. These include but are not limited to:

  • Health services through clinics, health fairs and school-based health centers
  • School gardens
  • Sports and recreational activities for youth and families
  • Nutrition, cooking and budgeting classes for youth and families
  • Hunger relief efforts
  • In partnership with school districts’ nutrition services, providing students with healthy snacks and full suppers that align with nutrition standards
  • Offering healthy family meals at school events
  • Providing weekend food through emergency food pantries and backpack programs

Joanne Fuller, Chief Operating Officer of Multnomah County and Co-Chair of the SUN Service System Coordinating Council, says that they are enthusiastic about the opportunity to be part of the national effort to prevent obesity. “The SUN Service System is uniquely positioned to have a large impact in the lives of children, youth and families through its 64 SUN Community Schools, 6 Regional Service Centers, and strong network of culturally-specific services that reach over 35,000 people each year. As a system of care focused on achieving equity, the SUN Service System plays an integral role with promoting wellness in our community. The SUN Wellness Guidelines are a significant opportunity to strengthen our efforts and ensure alignment across our multi-jurisdictional partnership.”

Tukwila, Washington – Safe Routes to School!

By Melissa Morin, Health Program Manager, Community Schools Collaboration (CSC)

The Health Team at Community Schools Collaboration (CSC) in Tukwila, Washington promotes wellness by ensuring that all students have access to nutritious foods and physical activity options through CSC’s programs and services and by creating school-based partnerships for health programming.

Some examples include:

  • Teen Talk groups for middle school students to discuss relevant health issues
  • Girls on the Run partnership – a self-esteem/running program for girls at several elementary school sites
  • Aetna Obesity Prevention Classes – physicians from Seattle Children’s Hospital teach classes for Latino parents and families on nutrition and physical activity
  • Peer Health Councils, which train high school students to be peer health educators

Most recently, the CSC in partnership with the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, Feet First, and the Tukwila School District began the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) initiative, to create new or improved systems so that more children walk and bike to school. According to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, less than 13 percent of students between the ages of five and 14 walked or biked to or from school, compared to 48 percent in 1969.

This new initiative in Tukwila has five goals:

  • Create safe walking routes for each of the three elementary schools in the district.
  • Increase the number of students who are walking or biking to school safely.
  • Increase students’ knowledge of pedestrian and bike safety.
  • Establish at least one “walking school bus” (a group of children walking to school with one or more adults.)
  • Coordinate community efforts to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

Tukwila Elementary School led several walking and bicycling audits for family members and their children to identify problem areas on sidewalks and streets.

Melissa Morin, Health Program Manager for CSC, recalls a group of Latina mothers who came to one of the walking audits and brought their kids and strollers. “They had such a great perspective to share on what it is like for them to walk in their neighborhood, especially when it comes to what holds them back from walking more often. We took a detour from our planned route at one point because one of the moms wanted to show us her street and the lack of sidewalks along it. She said that without sidewalks there, she doesn’t feel it’s very safe to let her kids walk unaccompanied by an adult. We were able to incorporate that into the report from the walking audit. Now, because we’ve convened a SRTS committee with city employees at the table, her concern has been heard, and the city is committed to prioritizing those kinds of needs and looking at how their policies can be more accommodating to walking and biking.”