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Giving Parents Tools to Tackle School Wellness Issues
Case Study: Family Engagement Institute

General information

There is an old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Thanks to her vision, passion and leadership, Robin Galas, Assistant Director of the Family Engagement Institute, took this concept into San Mateo County by not only teaching parents about how to improve their children’s health, but engaged them to take action that will continue to make their community a healthier place.

Last spring, Galas brought ten families from Brentwood Elementary School in East Palo Alto together for an eight-week class to learn about school wellness policies and how to improve nutrition in their children’s school.

The mission of the Family Engagement Institute is to create educational opportunities that increase family engagement. The class, called “Advocating for Healthier School Environments,” took that mission one-step further.

“It was the first time that we engaged parents in a health and wellness policy instead of just teaching them about it,” said Galas.

During the class, the parents first looked at Brentwood Elementary School’s wellness policy and found that though Brentwood did not allow soda and most sugary drinks on campus, they still offered chocolate milk. As a drink that many parents think of as a healthy choice for kids, the group was shocked to learn that one eight-ounce carton of chocolate milk typically has about four teaspoons (or 64 calories) of added sugar.

They also learned that in San Mateo County, 50% of youth drink one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day and that 34% of our children are overweight or obese.

It was clear what change needed to happen.

The families worked tirelessly sending out letters to parents, speaking at events and working with the school’s staff.

And their hard work paid off.

Chocolate milk was taken off the menu, but the group didn’t stop there. They are now working to make it easy for Brentwood students to drink water during the day by placing water stations throughout the school and asking local companies to donate water bottles.

 “[The parents] are like a tidal wave; you can’t stop them,” said Galas.

But the force behind that tidal wave is clearly Galas.

“When I think of collaboration, community leaders and genuine community engagement, which are all crucial to successful community change, I think of Robin,” said Get Healthy San Mateo County Senior Planner Doris Estremera. “She is not afraid to push the envelope and inspires others with her passion. We are lucky to have her as a ‘Get Healthy San Mateo County’ partner and proud of the work she has done with parents and school administrators to make the healthy choice the easy choice for children in East Palo Alto schools.”

So what’s next for this group of proactive parents and their fearless leader?

“We’ve given them tools, the skills, the voice and the confidence to tackle the issues they see in their community,” said Galas. “I am hopeful that they will continue that spirit of advocacy and engage more families in the process.”

Want to learn how to make your child’s school a better place?

  • Enroll in a free program at the Family Engagement Institute.
  • Apply for Get Healthy Funding for your community project.

Find out more about what you can do to reduce consumption of sugary drinks at GetHealthySMC.org.

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