A panel of community leaders including school and health care officials came together Thursday at East St. Louis Senior High School to discuss one thing -- children.
The panel discussion was part of the public release of the Illinois Kids Count report, which is compiled annually by the advocacy group Voices for Illinois Children.
Illinois Kids Count presents the best available data to measure the educational, social, economic and physical well-being of Illinois children. This year's report is "Child Health Matters."
"The most important resource we have in this community is our children," East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks said.
East Side Health District Administrator Elizabeth Patton-Whiteside discussed health issues plaguing the community of East St. Louis including the lack of quality food.
"We live in a food desert," she said.
Patton-Whiteside emphasized the importance of health living and good nutrition.
"Nutrition is the key to everything," she said. "If you come to school hungry in the morning, you're not going to learn anything. If you go to bed hungry at night, you don't sleep well. If you combat some of the nutritional problems in our community that would settle some of the health issues in our community."
Patton-Whiteside encouraged adults to set good examples for youth.
"The children mimic the adults. If we eat healthy, they'll try to eat healthy," she said. "But a lot of us don't want to do that. It's easy to go to McDonalds. It's easy to cook the ramen noodles. We're just saying put some vegetables in the ramen noodles -- stretch that 15 cent pack of ramen noodles and make it healthier."
Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation Medical Director Theodore Ross said children need more physical activity and less sedentary activities like watching TV, using a computer or playing video games.
"It's really important that we teach our children how to be more active," he said. "Any time a child sits more than two hours being sedentary ... you increase the rate of obesity."
Ross urged community members to help. "If each one of us makes a commitment to just instill and make changes within our community, then we can really change the future of our community," he said. "We can protect our children, and we can protect our culture."
East St. Louis School District 189 Superintendent Arthur Culver said more funding is needed for the schools to better support students.
"It's time for this state -- and I think the federal government too -- to take bold action when it comes to funding our schools. We have to insist that our legislators have the will and the courage to step up to the plate and change the funding formula for school districts across the state," Culver said. "Achieving equity and excellence for students academically should not be dictated by their zip code."
District 189's vision is to meet students' needs holistically, according to Culver, which includes educational, social, emotional and health needs.
"We want them to get the support necessary so they can graduate from high school ready for college, ready for a career and certainly ready for life," he said.
Dunbar Elementary School Parent Teacher Association President Martha Young said parents need to pay more attention to their children and be actively involved in their lives.
"I've always said children are our hope for the future, but they are part of our right now," Young said. "And we need to treat them as if they are our right now instead of ignoring them a lot of time.
"Parents need to step up to the plate and do what they need to do for their children" she added. "We have left the parents out too long. Our parents need to develop more parenting skills so our children can do better."
Young said parents need to be more stern with children at times. "We have to learn to tell our children no sometimes," she said.
To read the Illinois Kids Count report online, visit http://www.voices4kids.org.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or email@example.com.