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Report: Poorer Children Face Greater Obstacles to Healthy Eating and Active Living

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By Beth Tagawa, SF State News

Chips, soda, chocolate, candy — while these high-calorie treats are not part of a healthy diet, for years they were sold at California public elementary schools with no government restrictions. Students gobbled them up, and, at the same time, obesity levels rose.

That changed 11 years ago, when the state enacted policies limiting the so-called “competitive” food and beverages (CF&B) that could be sold at schools outside of school meal programs.

According to new research, these policies may have helped lower childhood obesity rates in elementary schools, but their effectiveness is not universally consistent: Obesity rates among students attending schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods showed less improvement than their peers at schools in wealthier neighborhoods.

“The good news is that for all kids, regardless of where their schools are located, the trends in obesity improved — though the rates are still pretty high,” said Emma V. Sanchez-Vaznaugh, an associate professor in the Department of Health Education at San Francisco State University and lead author of the study. “However, the bottom line is that everyone benefitted, but not equally.”

In 2004, California put into effect some of the nation’s most comprehensive policies limiting CF&B sales aimed at K-8 students, targeting sugar-sweetened beverages, fat, portion size and calories from fat.

Sanchez-Vaznaugh’s study, published online in JAMA Pediatrics today, compared overweight/obesity prevalence trends before and after these policies were implemented to determine whether these trends differed depending on socioeconomic factors in school neighborhoods.

The study was based on data for more than 2.7 million fifth-grade students in 5,362 California public schools from 2001 to 2010.

Sanchez-Vaznaugh and her coauthors found that, from 2005 to 2010, childhood obesity rates leveled off among students attending schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

But in more wealthy neighborhoods, there were significant improvements, with obesity rates dropping as much as 1.2 percent for females and one percent for males.

While these findings suggest that the CF&B restrictions are crucial tools to prevent and reduce childhood obesity, the extent of their effectiveness could depend on socioeconomic and other factors in school neighborhoods, Sanchez-Vaznaugh said.

Research has shown that children in disadvantaged neighborhoods are exposed to environmental factors that could make them more susceptible to obesity, she explained.

Children in disadvantaged neighborhoods may be negatively affected, for example, by exposure to unhealthful food sources, such as fast food outlets and convenience stores. They also may not have as many opportunities for physical activity if their neighborhoods have fewer parks and heavier traffic.

“Children attending schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods have many more obstacles to healthy eating and active living,” Sanchez-Vaznaugh said. “It’s very important to consider what else can be done.”

“Association between competitive food and beverage policies in elementary schools and childhood overweight/obesity trends — differences by neighborhood socioeconomic resources” was authored by Emma V. Sanchez-Vaznaugh; Brisa N. Sanchez of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Patricia B. Crawford of the University of California, Berkeley; and Susan Egerter of the University of California, San Francisco.

The study was published online in JAMA Pediatrics (a journal of the American Medical Association) on May 4.

By Beth Tagawa, SF State News

Chips, soda, chocolate, candy — while these high-calorie treats are not part of a healthy diet, for years they were sold at California public elementary schools with no government restrictions. Students gobbled them up, and, at the same time, obesity levels rose.

That changed 11 years ago, when the state enacted policies limiting the so-called “competitive” food and beverages (CF&B) that could be sold at schools outside of school meal programs.

According to new research, these policies may have helped lower childhood obesity rates in elementary schools, but their effectiveness is not universally consistent: Obesity rates among students attending schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods showed less improvement than their peers at schools in wealthier neighborhoods.

“The good news is that for all kids, regardless of where their schools are located, the trends in obesity improved — though the rates are still pretty high,” said Emma V. Sanchez-Vaznaugh, an associate professor in the Department of Health Education at San Francisco State University and lead author of the study. “However, the bottom line is that everyone benefitted, but not equally.”

In 2004, California put into effect some of the nation’s most comprehensive policies limiting CF&B sales aimed at K-8 students, targeting sugar-sweetened beverages, fat, portion size and calories from fat.

Sanchez-Vaznaugh’s study, published online in JAMA Pediatrics today, compared overweight/obesity prevalence trends before and after these policies were implemented to determine whether these trends differed depending on socioeconomic factors in school neighborhoods.

The study was based on data for more than 2.7 million fifth-grade students in 5,362 California public schools from 2001 to 2010.

Sanchez-Vaznaugh and her coauthors found that, from 2005 to 2010, childhood obesity rates leveled off among students attending schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

But in more wealthy neighborhoods, there were significant improvements, with obesity rates dropping as much as 1.2 percent for females and one percent for males.

While these findings suggest that the CF&B restrictions are crucial tools to prevent and reduce childhood obesity, the extent of their effectiveness could depend on socioeconomic and other factors in school neighborhoods, Sanchez-Vaznaugh said.

Research has shown that children in disadvantaged neighborhoods are exposed to environmental factors that could make them more susceptible to obesity, she explained.

Children in disadvantaged neighborhoods may be negatively affected, for example, by exposure to unhealthful food sources, such as fast food outlets and convenience stores. They also may not have as many opportunities for physical activity if their neighborhoods have fewer parks and heavier traffic.

“Children attending schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods have many more obstacles to healthy eating and active living,” Sanchez-Vaznaugh said. “It’s very important to consider what else can be done.”

“Association between competitive food and beverage policies in elementary schools and childhood overweight/obesity trends — differences by neighborhood socioeconomic resources” was authored by Emma V. Sanchez-Vaznaugh; Brisa N. Sanchez of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Patricia B. Crawford of the University of California, Berkeley; and Susan Egerter of the University of California, San Francisco.

The study was published online in JAMA Pediatrics (a journal of the American Medical Association) on May 4.

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Activism

IN MEMORIAM: Robert Farris Thompson, Renowned Professor of African American Studies

Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993).

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Robert Farris Thompson. Yale University photo.
Robert Farris Thompson. Yale University photo.

TRIBUTE

By John Santos

We’ve lost a Rosetta Stone.

Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson passed in his sleep Monday morning due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease and having been weakened by a bout with COVID-19 at the beginning of the year. He would’ve completed his 89th year on December 30.

Born on Dec. 30, 1932, Thompson was a White Texan who spectacularly disproved the fallacy of White supremacy through his pioneering and tireless elevation and clarification of African art, philosophy and culture. He removed the blinders and changed the way that generations of international students see African art.

A U.S. Army veteran, he went to Yale on a football scholarship and earned a B.A. in 1955. He joined the faculty in 1964 and earned his Ph.D. in 1965. He remained on the faculty until 2015.

‘Master T,’ as his students and friends often referred to him, was the Col. John Trumbull professor of the History of Art and professor of African American Studies at Yale University.

Thompson was also an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

He curated game-changing national exhibitions such as “African Art in Motion,” “The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds,” and “Faces of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas.” The latter had a run at U.C. Berkeley in 1995 when local practitioners of African spirituality and musicians — including myself – demonstrated the powerful knowledge of tradition.

Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993). If he did not coin, he certainly standardized the term ‘Black Atlantic.’ He was a brilliant presenter, writer and teacher. But unlike many if not most academicians, he was also loved, revered and respected by the musicians, artists and communities about whom he wrote.

Initiated in Africa to Erinle, the deity of deep, still water, Thompson was hip, quirky and totally immersed in African and African-based music, dance, language, art and history. His lifetime of research, immersion and visionary work formed a bridge between Black America and her African roots.

Countless trips to Africa, the Southern U.S., the Caribbean and Central and South America informed his passionate work. He wrote about sculpture, painting, architecture, dance, music, language, poetry, food, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, African history, stolen antiquities, African spirituality, African retention, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Black Argentina, New York, México, mambo, tango, jazz, spirit possession and so much more. He recorded African drumming. He befriended giants of African diaspora music such as Julito Collazo, Babatunde Olatunji and Mongo Santamaría.

I first saw his writing around 1970 on the back of the classic red vinyl 1961 Mongo Santamaria LP, Arriba! La Pachanga (Fantasy 3324). They are inarguably among the deepest liner notes ever written.

He told me that he used our 1984 recording, Bárbara Milagrosa, by the Orquesta Batachanga, to demonstrate danzón-mambo to his students. I nearly burst into tears when he invited me and Omar Sosa to address and perform for his students at Yale, his alma mater, where he was a rock star. It was an unforgettable occasion for me.

He wrote wonderful liner notes on our 2002 Grammy-nominated production SF Bay, by the Machete Ensemble. He went out of his way to support and encourage countless students and followers like me. I was highly honored to count him as a friend as well as mentor.

He will be missed.

John Santos is a seven-time Grammy-nominated percussionist and former director of Orquesta Batachanga and Machete Ensemble and current director of the John Santos Sextet.

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Activism

School District Faces Hostile Takeover by State Overseers

The Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) told Oakland Unified School District officials that they must cut the budget by $90 million and threatened – if the district does not take sufficient steps by the end of January – to withhold the salaries of the school board and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and place the district under direct control of the state’s Bakersfield-based nonprofit agency, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), according to a November 8 letter to the district from ACOE Supt. L. Karen Monroe.

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The danger of direct state control — now operating through FCMAT and ACOE — serving as the agents of the state, rather than through the dictatorial power of a state receiver — seems like a modified replay of the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, nearly 19 years ago.
The danger of direct state control — now operating through FCMAT and ACOE — serving as the agents of the state, rather than through the dictatorial power of a state receiver — seems like a modified replay of the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, nearly 19 years ago.

Takeover threat immediately follows district’s decision to halt school closings

By Ken Epstein

Oakland Unified School District officials were caught by surprise recently when they heard from the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE), which previously was working closely with OUSD, that the county had taken a dramatic step seemingly out of the blue, invoking an official “Lack of going concern” ruing on the district.

The ACOE told OUSD that they must cut the budget by $90 million and threatened – if the district does not take sufficient steps by the end of January – to withhold the salaries of the school board and Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and place the district under direct control of the state’s Bakersfield-based nonprofit agency, the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), according to a November 8 letter to the district from ACOE Supt. L. Karen Monroe.

Some school board members and school advocates see this threat of takeover by ACOE and FCMAT as retaliation and possibly an attempt to reverse a recent action by the board and Trammell-Johnson passing a resolution with wide community support to reject state pressure to close neighborhood schools.

With only five days to challenge the county’s ruling, school board members – with the backing of the superintendent and top administrators – voted unanimously at a special meeting on Saturday, November 13 to appeal the ‘lack of going concern’ determination to State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who this week announced he has sided with the county.

The danger of direct state control — now operating through FCMAT and ACOE — serving as the agents of the state, rather than through the dictatorial power of a state receiver — seems like a modified replay of the state takeover of OUSD in 2003, nearly 19 years ago.

At that time, the state placed a receiver and FCMAT in charge of OUSD and forced the district to accept a $100 million loan it did not need, and proceeded to unilaterally spend the windfall on their pet projects. OUSD is still paying off that loan. Also, the superintendent was fired, and the authority of the school board suspended.

Under state guidance, the district has closed about 20 schools, mostly in Black and Latinx flatland schools, with the direct encouragement of FCMAT, even though FCMAT has recognized that closing schools does not save money.

Under the leadership of FCMAT and the county since 2003, the district has faced almost continual budget cuts, has stayed in debt and has relied on a revolving door of privatizing administrators and consultants, many who appear to pass through Oakland as a career steppingstone.

According to Monroe’s letter, which has been challenged by the district, OUSD was doing fine this year, and its budget for 2021-2022 was approved. “However, due to the significant level of budgetary reliance on one-time revenue sources and the lack of adequate assurances that fiscal solvency is certain in future years, it has been determined that the district is a Lack of Going Concern with its budget approval.”

Monroe’s letter said the district must “implement $90 million in required reductions within a timely manner.” She also said the county will “withhold compensation of the members of the governing of the school district and the school district superintendent for failure to provide requested financial information,” though the district says it has worked closely with the county and has withheld no information.

Following FCMAT’s “recommendations” would not be optional. “The school district shall follow the recommendations of the (FCMAT) team, unless the school district shows good cause for failure to do so,” the letter said.

The district’s relationship with its overlords at the ACOE and FCMAT seemed to have gone south soon after the school board and administration decided on October 27 that it would no longer give in to state pressure to close more schools in coming years. Before the decision, the state trustee threatened to reverse the board decision if it passed but did nothing when they passed it anyway.

“Karen Monroe for five years has had oversight over every budget, and she approved the budgets,” Boardmember Mike Hutchinson told the Oakland Post. “She is the one who has had oversight. Whose responsibility is this?” He asked.

The district has been working closely with the county and is in better fiscal shape than it has been in years, said Hutchinson “What is new, besides the district’s decision not to close more schools?”

President of the Oakland teachers’ union Keith Brown told the Oakland Post, “We’re opposed to (Supt.) Monroe’s actions. We feel that imposing FCMAT on Oakland would be damaging to our community and our schools.”

While many school advocates strongly criticize the district for its bureaucratic, top-down management and lack of accountability in making budget decisions, they oppose this threatened takeover for a variety of reasons:

  • The imposition of FCMAT on OUSD constitutes the suspension of voters’ right to choose their representatives and is a violation of Oakland residents’ democratic rights of self-government.
  • The county is demanding $90 million in budget reductions. How did this happen under the county’s watch? How can $90 million be cut and still have a school district that exists in any recognizable form?
  • The county says school enrollment has declined but failed to acknowledge the pandemic has anything to do with it. The county complains the district has relied on one-time spending, but isn’t that what federal pandemic funds were for?
  • FCMAT and the county have been working closely with OUSD for years, but now they say they failed. Why is the solution to turn total control over to them?
  • There is at least the appearance that the threat to withhold leaders’ salaries and impose FCMAT is in part retaliation for the district decision to stop closing more schools, which is the democratic right of local representatives.

Responding to Oakland Post questions, Monroe said, “Decision-making in Oakland Unified lies with the members of the Board of Education that have been elected by the Oakland community, so I am perplexed by any reference to a violation of the democratic rights of Oakland voters.

“The work to be done by FCMAT does not constitute any replacement of OUSD’s governance structure and is spelled out clearly in Education Code. It is limited in scope and does not usurp or compromise the Board’s local control,” she said. More of her responses will be printed in the next Oakland Post edition.

L. Karen Monroe’s letter to OUSD is available at:

https://ousd.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9962661&GUID=ADEF97D5-0DD4-44CF-99E2-C31AF83C734E

OUSD’ appeal letter to Tony Thurmond is available at

https://ousd.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=9963018&GUID=7E877777-AF0C-4211-ABE3-D38E9F2FB20E

Boardmember Hutchinson urged people to call Tony Thurmond and Supt. Monroe and to sign a petition available online at https://bit.ly/3xJRc6K

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Commentary

Closing the Loss of Learning Reading Gap

The new community-based non-profit, Right Path to Learning, promotes early literacy in these first crucial years while there’s still a chance to make a difference. They set out to prove that children in under-performing and under-resourced schools can thrive with the right resources.

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The EnCompass Summer School Pilot proved to be a successful partnership between Right Path to Learning, Sylvan Learning, and the families and staff of EnCompass Academy.

By Conway Jones

Reading is the foundation of a good education and fundamental to success in life.

Can you imagine your life without reading? What if you couldn’t read well enough to follow directions, conduct your business, or even enjoy a good book?

Success starts early. Until 3rd grade, children are learning to read; after third grade, they’re reading to learn. Students who don’t achieve literacy by third grade fall behind and become bored, frustrated, and unlikely to graduate high school, much less go on to higher education.

The new community-based non-profit, Right Path to Learning, promotes early literacy in these first crucial years while there’s still a chance to make a difference. They set out to prove that children in under-performing and under-resourced schools can thrive with the right resources.

This summer, they did it. RPL hired Sylvan Learning to provide 15 children, 50 hours of support education to help them achieve literacy at EnCompass Academy in East Oakland.

Sylvan Learning tested the children at the beginning of the program: they were one year to over two years behind grade level in literacy. At the end of RPL’s five-week program, 93% of the students enrolled in the RPL pilot program at EnCompass completed it and the attendance rate was 86%, or an average of 43 hours completed in the 50-hour program.

Students advanced by almost 50% of a school year to grade level. Students grew on all three components of the Sylvan Outlook Survey, indicating a 25% increase in their engagement with school, improvement in their academic perseverance, and their confidence in reading.

All of the parents surveyed indicated that the program was beneficial, that it helped their child read better, their child enjoyed the program, and their confidence in reading improved.

As the parent of one of our students put it, “If you believe in it, you can do it!”

The EnCompass Summer School Pilot proved to be a successful partnership between Right Path to Learning, Sylvan Learning, and the families and staff of EnCompass Academy.

The school staff was thrilled with the overall academic improvements and is eager to partner again next spring. Based on the success last summer, Right Path to Learning will provide additional services to the Oakland Unified School District students in the advancement of its goal of ensuring that 2,000 under-resourced students reach literacy by the end of 3rd grade.

“Our children made substantial progress in confidence and in reading growth. Because of that, a student shared that she is now spending two hours at the library because she is able to read better,” said Minh-Tram Nguyen, principal at OUSD’s EnCompass Academy. “That’s a powerful testimony to the program’s success, and we are looking forward to continuing our relationship with Right Path to Learning,” she continued.

Right Path to Learning program will move from a Summer School program to an After School program starting January 2022.

In 10 years, these third graders will be 18-year-old adult members of our community, on their way to productive lives and life-long learning.

For more information, visit www.RightPathtoLearning.

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