Friday, September 24, 2010

DYRS Provides More than Services

Yesterday, DCAYA attended a hearing in the Wilson building called by Tommy Wells, the Chair of the Committee on Human Services on the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS). This was the first time that members of the DC advocacy community were be able to interact with Interim Director Rob Hildum since he took the reins from former DYRS Director Marc Shindler this July. Until yesterday, there had been no official public interaction between the oversight committee and Mr. Hildum. As advocates, this was an important opportunity to educate Council members on the importance of continuing to move the local juvenile justice system in the direction of reform.

DCAYA Boardmembers Daniel Okonkwo (DC Lawyers for Youth) and Debby Shore (Sasha Bruce) testified at the hearing along with representatives from national advocacy organizations such as the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the Justice Policy Institute, the National Juvenile Justice Network and the Campaign for Youth Justice. Many of the hearing witnesses testified about various issues surrounding the New Beginnings Youth Development Center, opened by DYRS in 2009, that signified a switch from punitive youth justice to a more rehabilitative approach. Various concerns over Mr. Hildum's approach to juevenile justice in the city versus that of Mr. Shindler have surfaced in recent months prompting the advocacy community to respond at the round table called by Mr. Wells.

New Beginnings serves the most serious and chronic young offenders from the District. After a spike in violence committed by youth this year the facility is now overcrowded and many issues about the quality of services being provided there have come into question. The idea behind the Missouri approach provided by New Beginnings is that by providing a myriad of services and programs to youth offenders during their nine to twelve months stays, youth can be rehabilitated and eventually reintegrated into their communities rather than forced into a cycle of criminal activity. Recent concerns over the amount of youth housed at the facility, as well as, some of the tactics used by DYRS head Mr. Hildum have called the effectiveness of New Beginnings into question.

In his testimony, Daniel Okonkwo, Executive Director of DC Lawyers for Youth emphasized that “High standards for DYRS mean we move from get tough policies like the increased use of isolation and forward to smart reforms such as implementing treatment based on principles of positive youth development. These policy decisions have real world consequences for our youth.”

New Beginnings was meant to embody the idea of positive youth development. Though DYRS may not be a perfect agency and may take missteps in achieving this mission it is still refreshing to see a youth-serving government agency with a solid intent to serve its constituents well. Furthermore DYRS scrutiny in the form of Committee Chair Wells' calling of the hearing proves that city officials can and will take the best interests of youth into account when advocates like DC Lawyers for Youth, Sasha Bruce and DCAYA show the benefits to taking such an action.

As DCAYA embarks on its 2010-2011 Advocacy season we find that it is of the utmost importance that we ensure ALL of the DC government agencies that serve children and youth and NOT JUST DYRS have the best interests of their constituents at heart. This concept is the very core of the work DCAYA, its membership and its allies seek to accomplish and we clearly have our work cut out for us as we come into FY 2011 and the start of a new administration in the coming months.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Milk Friendly City

This morning Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak came out with an article exclaiming that she “just couldn’t swallow the anti-chocolate milk argument.” The “argument” she references is centered on D.C. schools removal of chocolate milk from their lunch menus for SY 2010-2011. Ms. Dvorak writes that “removing the junk from kids’ lunches is smart. We all get that.” Yet she rails on various local school districts that are striving to do just that?

Ms. Dvorak makes a few separate cases in support of her lack of buy-in: 1) There are plenty of other foods that are worse for kids than chocolate- laced dairy products, 2) the chocolate in milk can serve as an inducement for kids that otherwise would not be consuming dairy, and 3) parents should be the ones deciding what their kids eat, not DCPS.

Granted, these points bear some merit, however given the District’s overwhelming problem with childhood obesity these seem moot. To put this in perspective, consider that according to the Healthy School’s Act of 2010 (that Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced last year) more than 55% of District residents are either overweight or obese – this figure includes nearly half of all children in DC and in some wards, the rate of overweight and obese individuals exceeds 70%. Further, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the rate of adolescent obesity in the District is the highest in the nation. Ouch.

So yes, maybe there are worse culprits out there, but getting sugar out of schools has to start somewhere. And the argument that parents should be able to decide if their kids can drink chocolate milk? Parents you CAN decide this by allowing your kids to drink chocolate milk at home. What’s more is at home you get to control the amount of sugary chocolate goodness that goes into their milk. Maybe teach them a little something about different forms of measurement while you are at it and kill two birds with one stone.

The point is schoolchildren do not need the option of having flavored milk. School food should be about providing a baseline nutritional value to school kids so they have the energy they need to make it through their school day. Chocolate milk tastes good; thus it should not be at all surprising that when given the choice most kids prefer it to regular milk. But, at the end of the day, nutritionally it just is not the same.

Any individual that is given the choice between something that tastes relatively bland and something that tastes like chocolate or strawberry is going to pick the flavored version. This is especially true for individuals that do not take things like overall calorie or sugar intake into account. Dvorak writes that chocolate milk is the ‘spoonful of sugar (that) helps the medicine go down,” but what are schools risking by telling their students that extra sugar and calories are fine as long as what they are being added to is healthy?

Chocolate milk is tasty. DCAYA staff (and ESPECIALLY THIS BLOGGER) are not so old that we don’t remember enjoying a nice carton of it during the many milk breaks of years past. However, years past were just that, years past. Fast forward to present day where schoolchildren and youth in the District are living the childhood obesity epidemic and all of a sudden taking away the sweet stuff doesn’t seem like such a terrible option.


For more information on the National School Lunch Program:

http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/lunch/AboutLunch/NSLPFactSheet.pdf

For more information on the Healthy Schools Act of 2010:

http://www.marycheh.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=98&catid=39&Itemid=61

To visit the original article from the Washington Post by Petula Dvorak:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/16/AR2010091606463.html?hpid=talkbox1

To watch the video of Jamie Oliver that Dvorak references:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fet-5oYwus0

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Message from DCAYA Board Member and Executive Director of DC Scores Amy Nakamoto

With election season upon us, some of the District’s key issues for all of its constituents have taken center stage. Those issues have predominantly been education, public safety, economic and jobs development, and education (oh, did I already mention that?). While DC SCORES does not and will not endorse any one mayoral or council candidate over the other, we do feel this is the time to bring to light what is important for our participating poet-athletes.

As an after-school provider working intensively with 25 public and public charter elementary and middle schools in Wards 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8, we believe strongly that a high-quality education should encompass well-rounded experiences that contribute to the formal and informal learning a student undertakes. For DC SCORES, this includes the opportunity to be active, creative, and part of a team in a non-formal school environment.

We feel that funding, policies, practices, and expectations at all levels of District government should not impede, rather enhance, our (or any other quality program’s) ability to provide a transformative experience for youth in the critical after-school hours. Youth spend more time out of school than in, which must not be overlooked when thinking about what youth most need to develop into functioning, educated, contributing adults.

An example of such a policy is the recently passed Healthy Schools Act (HSA). The act mandates, among other things, that over the next several years schools modify and enhance the opportunity for physical activity by changing formal physical education, expanding sport offerings, and/or including physical activity in after-school programs.

This Council-led bill passed in late spring 2010. In order for something as important as this piece of legislation to be realized, the Mayor’s office and the Council need to support funding and policies in accordance with this act. It is what is right for youth’s health, and their growing minds and bodies. This is just one example of what is important to DC SCORES.

Broadly, DC SCORES has the ability to thrive, expand, and increase our impact on the community in a District that is forward-thinking, resourceful, and collaborative. Changes and improvements to all systems (education, safety, and economy) impact directly or indirectly thousands of District youth every day.

Since youth can’t vote, I’d like to push our supporters to think hard about the policies and decisions made on a District level that will make the youth experience in DC a worthwhile one.

-- Written by Amy Nakamoto, Executive Director, DC Scores

DCAYA Voting Guides on Public School Improvement

We've had them in print, but now they are FINALLY here! Everyone please take a look at DCAYA's Voting Guides for the Mayoral, At-large Councilmember and Councilchair Elections!

Find them here!