It is always our pleasure to spotlight the great work of parents, particularly those driven to create change within schools and community. We caught up with Charles Darwin Elementary School parent coordinator Inez Diaz at a recent Parents United for Healthy Schools/Padres Unidos para Escuela Saludables meeting.
Diaz, a Puerto Rican immigrant, worked with the Logan Square neighborhood school for more than 20 years as a parent volunteer before taking a staff position. Upon coming to Chicago, she did not speak a word of English and was scared because she didn’t know anything about the public school system here. When her daughter attended Darwin, she was encouraged to attend local school council meetings and become a parent volunteer. Now, she encourages other parents by providing resources for parents to get involved.
With this experience, Diaz decided to go back to school to study education. When she completed her studies, she was faced with deciding between teaching and working with parents.
“I love the kids, but I want to be with the parents,” she said. “If we get good parents, we get better students.”
Diaz views creating mentors and keeping other parents motivated as essential parts of her job. So when she encountered Parents United campaign manager Jovita Flores, she was intrigued. “Every time I went to meetings, I saw Jovita]passing out fliers about healthy lifestyle choices and the First Lady!” she explained. Soon after, Darwin principal Mauricio Esteban Segovia encouraged Diaz to attend the sixth annual Principals’ Breakfast.
“When I heard the stories from the other schools and parents, I thought, ‘why aren’t we doing this?’” she said. From that point, eager Darwin parents pushed to get involved. The parent leader was particularly motivated by the stories and the inspiring vision for school wellness she heard from other parents at the breakfast. “This is our goal now and we going to go for the gold!” she said.
The next day, Darwin moved quickly and is currently in the process of joining more than 30 schools in Chicago in meeting the high standards for school food and fitness set by the HealthierUS School Challenge with the support of Go for the Gold and Parents United! This includes nutrition education for parents and students and implementing structured recess. “For me, as an employee and a parent, it would be an honor and a privilege" to meet this challenge, she said. "I don’t have words for it... amazing!”
Diaz sees a healthy school environment as a priority. “If you have healthy people, they can function better. If they’re healthy, they can do more stuff.”
The entire school community is enthusiastic about changes to promote wellness, Diaz said. She added that the physical education teacher was happy to help her lead the school wellness charge and support the effort. The science teacher is on board to incorporate in-class wellness. She credits Principal Segovia’s leadership in creating a healthy school environment.
Keep up the great work, Darwin!
To learn more about Chicago parents’ efforts to improve health and wellness, check out our Parents United for Healthy Schools blog updates. You can also learn about how the Go for the Gold campaign supports school food and fitness here.