Youth for Healthy Schools

Youth for Healthy Schools responds to House Nutrition Bill


House Nutrition Bill: More paperwork and less nutrition for poor kids

Youth for Healthy Schools strongly opposes the harmful changes in theImproving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016” (H.R. 5003).We support strong nutrition standards for all students and universal free meals for poor students with no stigma and bureaucratic barriers.

Specifically, the draft proposes to roll back standards on whole grains, and slow or stall the reduction of sodium in school meals based on factors like increased costs and levels of student participation. Basing the quality of food served in our schools on how much it costs amounts to telling poor students that healthy food is too good for them. This hypocritical move would also mean that school meals will be out of step with dietary guidelines for Americans.

The draft also reduces the impact of “smart snacks” standards, allowing a return to the days when students are expected to market unhealthy foods to their peers while also having to navigate a cafeteria full of chips, fries, and ice cream.

Finally, the draft would reduce the number of schools that can opt into the Community Eligibility Provision, which according to a recent report by the Center for Budget Policy Priorities has been shown to limit the paperwork required of schools and families, reduce error rates in program applications, and combat hunger by increasing children’s participation in meal programs. Currently, the provision allows schools where at least 40% of students receive safety net benefits to offer free meals to all students, and have schools use local funds to cover any costs that are not covered by federal reimbursement. This bill would raise the threshold to 60%, meaning that schools will have to go back to collecting and processing applications from each family. The Center on Budget and Policy priorities reports that 7,000 high poverty schools with over three million students would have to reinstate applications. Ultimately, our taxes will be going to paperwork rather than to meals and education, punishing poor students in communities around the country – be they urban, suburban, rural or reservations.

“I read about the House’s reauthorization bill and it’s very discouraging. Our families in Southwest Denver already have to work hard to make sure we have access to fresh, healthy food. Does the federal government really care about the health of students like me? About hungry kids in my school who have trouble concentrating?” questioned Estefania Torres, 9th grader and member of Padres y Jovenes Unidos.

Youth for Healthy Schools promotes and implements evidence-based practices to increase the availability and affordability of fresh, local and healthy food in our schools and communities. We support full funding and implementation of farm to school programs, training and technical assistance for cafeteria staff, renovation of kitchens for the fresh preparation of food, and free school meals to high poverty schools.


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Youth United for Change wins commitment from the School District of Philadelphia to do a full inventory of water fountains in all public schools

Youth United for Change (YUC) in partnership with other community and advocacy groups, won a commitment from the School District of Philadelphia to do a full inventory of water fountains throughout all public schools. The announcement comes on the heels of a recent City Council Hearing on the State of Water in Philadelphia. YUC members were in attendance and provided testimony. Getting the district to agree to a full assessment of the water infrastructure in all SDP schools met one of YUC’s demands for water access. This is a big victory for the campaign, but there is still much work to be done. YUC will continue to press for the availability of clean and safe drinking water for all Philadelphia students; with $88 million dollars of unexpected local tax revenues, this windfall could be transformative in not only addressing issues of water access but also broader material conditions within schools. A big shout out to the Food Trust, Education Law Center-PA, CHOP PolicyLab, the Coalition of 100 Black Women, the PFT, PennEnvironment and the Campaign for Lead Free Water for helping creating the conditions for greater oversight regarding Philadelphia’s water


Read more here.

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Roots of Change: Sandra Garcia of the Southwest Workers Union


My mother had a heart attack when I was 16. I remember my father telling me that if she died, I would become caregiver for him, my two brothers and my nephew – cooking, cleaning the house, and everything in between. Luckily, my mother came home from the hospital with a warning from the doctor – she had to change her eating habits to survive.


In my house, everything was made with spoonsful of Armour Manteca (lard). It came in a little green box and we used it for eggs, meats, beans and even for baking. We ate menudo (soup with beef stomach) and tripe. These foods evolved using the parts that the butcher would throw away or sell very cheap since it was considered trash. Growing up I believed that the food we ate was just a part of our culture, but looking back but as an adult I realized it was the cheapest, but unhealthiest food we could get. I started having conversations with others that grew up eating similar foods and I saw the patterns – diabetes, heart disease and other diseases directly related to the food we ate.


By chance, in my college economics class there was a guest speaker one day from the Southwest Workers Union. They were announcing a major march or immigration issues in 2006. They also announced they would be having a summer program if anyone would like to apply. I was shy and didn’t speak up, but I did end up joining the summer program one week late. My friend Diana would call me to be part of the meetings.


After Interning for the summer I was hired on as a youth organizer. We were fighting environmental racism in San Antonio. After the city voted to put two more fuel storage tanks on the East Side we brainstormed how can we get something good there for a change, and out came the Roots of Change community garden.


When SWU started the Roots of Change Garden in 2007, I realized how beautiful it was to grow your own naturally organic food. I was a youth organizer getting youth involved and facilitating the process of how to start home gardens, while just learning a week before. The trial and error process of turning a vacant lot that had been used for drug dealing to a beautiful acre of produce inspired me to grow my own food at home. I started with my favorite items that I use a lot in my cooking, cilantro, garlic, and all sorts of peppers.


I realized that our traditional diet and our traditional way of eating is actually healthy – filled with fruits, vegetables and herbs. Yet because we don’t have access to land to grow food or the resources to purchase high quality food, or even the education of better alternatives my family and so many others grew accustomed to cheap and readily available highly processed food products.

More and more young people are waking up to the connection between the health of our families and communities and access to land, resources and education. I am privileged to be the youth coordinator with the Southwest Workers Union – Youth Leadership Organization. Our youth leaders wrote “Thinking Green” a sustainability plan that included five areas: Food, Energy, Waste, Transportation and Awareness. Here’s an excerpt from the plan regarding school food:


We created a garden at Edison high school that got its own compost pile and green house. This is now a pilot for the entire San Antonio Independent school District. We are developing a Farm to School pilot program that sets a percentage goal for the amount of locally grown produce used in meals, establishing more healthy, fresh menu options in schools across the district, and establishing a Junk Free Food Zone that eliminates unhealthy vending machines and snack options in schools.


I saw firsthand the changes that eating healthy made in my mom’s life. I’m inspired every day to be able to work with young people who are fighting for fresh, healthy, and whole food in our schools and communities so that this generation and the ones to come can live long, healthy and fulfilling lives.

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Youth Convene for Healthier Schools as Childhood Nutrition Act Reauthorization Approaches


Contact: Nijmie Dzurinko (215) 667-0066


Youth Convene for Healthier Schools

Young People of Color to Congress: Keep Moving Forward on School Food


Los Angeles – While most teens are enjoying their summer vacation, members of the Youth for Healthy Schools advocacy network will be traveling from 12 states to meet at The California Endowment in Los Angeles, for three days starting July 30, to share strategies about how to make their schools healthier places to be. At the top of their agenda: school food.


“We support Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in demanding that Congress uphold strong school food standards in the upcoming reauthorization of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (HFFK),” remarked Sandra García of the Southwest Workers Union in San Antonio. “This isn’t child’s play – we may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than our parents.”


According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three U.S. children is overweight. The USDA counts thirty million youth that eat school lunch every day, and two-thirds of those do so out of need. For almost 20 million young people throughout our country, school meals are a primary source of nutrition.


These young people know firsthand what it’s like to live in communities where healthy options are scarce. “We traced the path of students walking to school and all they see is fast food chains with food high in fat and sodium,” shared Isaías Vásquez of Padres y Jóvenes Unidos in Denver. “When that is the alternative, it’s crucial that schools only serve healthy food.”


Implemented after the 2010 passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the enhanced National School Lunch Program’s nutritional guidelines, which include more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, and limits on fat and salt, are now in their third year. The future of these standards is being debated in Congress.


Despite these common-sense measures that polls show most parents and voters agree with, other groups including corporate food and agriculture giants have hotly contested their implementation and reauthorization.


“It’s sad that some members of Congress seem to care more about the health of corporate profits than the next generation of youth,” reflected Jamal Jones of the Baltimore Algebra Project.


“Youth of today have way more power to change our society than what we’re taking advantage of. The health of our schools’ food directly affects us and it’s our duty to change it for the better!” said Andrea Boakye of Youth Empowered Solutions in Charlotte, N.C.




About Youth for Healthy Schools: Youth for Healthy Schools is a collaborative organizing network of 15 youth and parent organizations of color in 12 states leading a movement for school and community wellness as part of the Healthy Communities II Initiative of the Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing. For more information, visit

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Meet Stefany Olivas, Youth for Healthy Schools Fellow with the Southwest Organizing Project


My parents, Annette Esquibel and Victor Olivas, met at a small church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Just after my sister was born they moved back to California where my father was also raised. They eventually found themselves in Redondo Beach, CA. On Mothers Day in 1990, I first saw the light of day and breathed salty ocean air. Only a few years later my parents split up, and after floating between families in Palm Dale and Denver my mother ended up back in New Mexico. We still saw my biological father all the time, but it was in Bernalillo, New Mexico where I spent the entirety of my life with my mom and stepdad. A small town with two Native American Pueblos to the North and South, the Sandia Mountains to the East, and Intel Corporation’s home- Rio Rancho, to the West.

My mom married again to John Murphey, a young Irish-Mexicano born and raised in New Mexico. It took my biological father until I was about 9 to finally meet a wealthier woman in Colorado, remarry and eventually start a second family in West LA County.

My sister and I travelled between both families several times a year. Many new people we met were fascinated by how “diverse” our family was. I had many awkward conversations with people who couldn’t understand where I was from, or why I had a Mexican-sounding accent yet didn’t know how to speak Spanish.

Rodolfo Anaya’s “Bless me, Ultima” is a Chicano Literary classic about a young boy named Antonio coming of age in rural New Mexico during the 1940’s. A family friend and his mentor Ultima, is a curandera (healer) who goes to live with his family for her last days. His father’s family are the Márez and his mother’s are the Lunas. The novel provides a context for the history and unique culture that emerged from communities surviving hundreds of years of land removal and colonization.

Many people I know share a similar history: “The first pioneers there were sheepherders. Then they imported herds of cattle from Mexico and became vaqueros. They became horsemen, caballeros, men whose daily life was wrapped up in the ritual of horsemanship. They were the first cowboys in a wild and desolate land which they took from the Indians. Then the railroad came. The barbed wire came. The songs, the corridos became sad, and the meeting of the people from Texas with my forefathers was full of blood, murder, and tragedy. The people were uprooted. They looked around one day and found themselves closed in. The freedom of land and sky they had known was gone. Those people could not live without freedom and so they packed up and moved west. They became migrants. My mother did not like the people of the llano. To her they were worthless drunkards, wanderers. She did not understand their tragedy, their search for the freedom that was now forever gone.”


Studies show that young women lose interest in academic and athletic programs after middle school. I did the same thing. In middle school I was in basketball, cross-country, soccer, choir, and excelling in mathematics. But when I turned 15, I couldn’t get along with my parents, school superiors, or the desert any longer. It had been a difficult freshman year; my grades dropped, I drifted from childhood friends and interests.

When I would visit friends and family in New Mexico for holidays, is when I began to miss and appreciate my home. I had a yearning in the pit of my stomach that’s hard to explain. I wanted to be in my room with my old things around me. I still liked living near the ocean, had loving friends and family around- But the yearning was deeper than that. I had to be physically present in the desert, with sandy clay beneath my feet, in order to begin my understanding.

The young boy’s struggle to discover his own identity describes my own: “It is the blood of the Lunas to be quiet, for only a quiet man can learn the secrets of the earth that are necessary for planting—They are quiet like the moon—And it is the blood of the Márez to be wild, like the ocean from which they take their name, and the spaces of the llano that have become their home.” I waited, then said. “Now we have come to live near the river, and yet near the llano. I love them both, and yet I am of neither. I wonder which life I will choose?”

The years I was gone a few friends were lost to gang violence and drugs, (many more recently just as we’re all reaching our mid-twenties) and my dad and step-dad both passed before the age of 50. They all may have had better chances of understanding the barriers they were facing and making it through if they had different opportunities.

Social determinants of health are environmental and social factors in a person’s life that determine the likelihood of certain health outcomes. Facing barriers to proper transportation, or access to real, whole foods significantly affects how prone someone is to disease.

Victor spent practically all of his life travelling between CA and NM trying to get his construction business going. His custom designs were perfect, but his love for his two distant homes was too great but still made enough to supplement supporting my sister and I.

“These were the people of my father, the vaqueros of the llano. They were an exuberant, restless people, wandering across the ocean of the plain.”

In Bernalillo County where Albuquerque is, communities in some areas live an average of 22 years less than others. These communities are most commonly communities of color.

It wasn’t until I began to learn the history of my family and the Chicano culture that I started to understand everything that my family and friends went through. Becoming a member of the SouthWest Organizing Project helped me understand the reasons why my community had lost so much and so many loved ones. Not because it was their time, but because they grew up in a society that had exploited their environments and values all of their lives.

I began as an intern with the Food Justice campaign called Project Feed the Hood, which sparked my passion for food in an entirely different way. I began to learn the importance of reconnecting with the land, the value of growing local, fresh food. And the power of spaces like community gardens to talk about social Injustices we face every day, including hunger, obesity and food access. I learned what it feels like to be empowered to make change in my community.

In 2014 83% of New Mexico households lived in poverty. Our state once again ranked #1 for Childhood hunger. 87% of households with Children are Food insecure, and families almost always are forced to choose between food and utilities, healthcare or education.

Now as a Youth for Healthy Schools fellow, I can continue to work with my community to address root causes of poverty and hunger in my community, and find new ways to build leadership skills and power with local youth. We can continue to share our stories with our partners around the nation, and collaborate with people who are facing similar social injustices in their communities.

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