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St. Gregory the Great High School: A Healthier Approach to Learning

Nov 09, 2010 ● By Megy Karydes

Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign has sparked a national initiative to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity and inspire schools, families and communities to help families eat better, be more active and get healthy.

At St. Gregory the Great High School, located in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood, a small yet diverse student community of young people from more than 27 countries is doing just that. St. Gregory was appointed as a pilot initiative school by the Chicago Office of Catholic Schools to launch a 21st-century, inquiry-based curriculum, with an emphasis on stewardship, social justice and health and wellness.

“Health and wellness are vital to student achievement,” says Sharon Weinstein, a certified physical and environmental wellness specialist and consultant working with St. Gregory to develop community health programs at the school. “St. Gregory is on the leading edge of schools nationwide that promote the concepts of self-care and assuming responsibility for one’s internal and external environment. The goals are to sustain overall well-being, enhance learning and achieve balance in life. Healthy students are better able to concentrate on their work, attend school more regularly, and feel well.”

Cynthia Morgan, the school’s director of innovation, notes that many schools are striving to incorporate health, wellness and sustainability into their programs, yet are often unsure how to go about it. “At St. Gregory, we’re taking a guided approach to introduce sustainability into the culture and curriculum through our food services program, classroom instruction, professional development and social learning network,” Morgan says.

When the students signed a petition to have junk food returned to the lunch menu, Morgan contacted FSP, St. Gregory’s food service provider, to develop a program that involves the students in menu planning with a licensed nutritionist and chef. “Food is an important part of our daily lives, and it’s up to us to teach them why their food choices matter,” she advises.

Another source of pride at St. Gregory will be its onsite Renewal Center, where students, faculty, staff and community members can renew their spirit, restore their well-being and revitalize themselves. Weinstein says, “With the support of holistic nurses from the community, the Renewal Center will offer healing modalities such as Reiki, yoga, massage and others, offering therapies that improve circulation, hydrate the body and heal the soul.”

The Renewal Center also will provide a new funding stream to support additional programs for the high school, through donations and fees from community residents. Other programs underway include an Ideal Classroom, Community Engagement sessions and a new, zero-waste kitchen.

“Our goal is to be on the cutting edge of health and wellness, cognizant of the impact of well-being on one’s ability to learn, to survive and to thrive in today’s environment,” advises Weinstein. “We want to educate, so that students and those in the community can make informed decisions around their own health, for our children and for our future.”

“Integrating the principles and scientific research behind healthy eating, wellness and sustainable living choices into the core academic curriculum at St. Gregory provides students with more than a solid academic program,” says Head of School Lori Deichstetter. “Engaged in their learning, St. Gregory students discover new knowledge applicable to their lives now and develop skills far beyond a college preparatory experience. St. Gregory prepares students with 21st-century learning skills and personal, spiritual growth for life.”

To learn more about St. Gregory the Great High School’s sustainability initiatives or to become involved, visit or attend its Christmas Around the World fundraiser, December 4.

Save the Date
Christmas Around the World
with St. Gregory the Great High School
6 to 9 p.m., December 4, 2010
St. Gregory High School, 1677 West Bryn Mawr, Chicago 60660

For more information about the event, contact Director of Development Mary Linder at 773-907-2114 or [email protected].

Megy Karydes is a freelance writer living in Chicago. While writing this article, she fondly remembered participating in her Catholic high school CROP Hunger Walks.