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Institute for Student Health

Story

ISH cofounders Natalie RobertoThe Institute for Student Health (The ISH) grew out of Natalie and Roberto’s shared love of kids and education combined with their passion for social and environmental justice.

Background

Natalie grew up in Stillwater, Oklahoma and Roberto in Tijuana, Mexico. Their enthusiasm for exploring the world brought them together when they met training to be international trip leaders for Putney Student Travel in 2008. They joined forces and quickly learned that they had more in common than a travel bug. They also a shared passion for social and environmental justice and a love of working with youth and education, which would eventually lead to the formation the The ISH.

Natalie and Roberto found themselves in a similar place. They were each equipped with an undergraduate degree in International Relations and a Master’s degree, Roberto in International Relations and Natalie in Education. They had spent years researching the challenges facing our environment and our youth in order to write papers analyzing what should be done to solve our issues. They had traveled and seen first-hand beautiful natural ecosystems that are endangered by the very way of life that permitted them to travel in the first place. As young professionals, they both felt that it was time to stop witnessing problems. It was time to take action.

The ISH was born as a means to address two key issues.

Issue 1: Deteriorating state of the natural environment

ISH is primarily a tool to promote health and well being as a way to improve and connect people to the environment. Natalie and Roberto’s travel experiences convinced them that in order to protect many of the world’s fragile ecosystems, people must change their habits in a way that will support a sustainable future.

As they considered the world’s most challenging problems they noted that many global environmental issues could be improved by reducing dependence on the industrial food complex. If people could produce their own food, they would improve their personal health as well as planetary health.  Teaching youth that fresh, nutritious food comes from the earth and that our health and quality of living is impacted by our environment would help them make the connection that we must protect the planet.

Their love for and affiliation with both Mexico and the United States and their global perspective influenced them to concentrate efforts on these two countries with the highest obesity rates.

Issue 2: Students lacking basic healthy habits

In their experience as classroom teachers, both Natalie and Roberto witnessed first-hand how students’ academic performance can be negatively impacted by unhealthy habits. Students who self-reported to skip breakfast and snack on chips and sugary drinks struggled to concentrate in class, often falling asleep or complaining of hunger.

The couple each had a life-long history of practicing healthy habits, largely influenced by individuals in their childhoods. They knew that building habits can be easier than changing them and resolved to target youth in hopes that as students eagerly adopted a healthy lifestyle, they might also inspire their families and communities to do the same.

Take Action

While Natalie was at school and Roberto was completing a leadership program, they recognized that they already had the tools to put their passion into action and co-founded theISH in 2011. They planned lessons and programs that combined fun fitness activities, nutrition facts and healthy recipes, and gardening. What started as Roberto guest lecturing in a friend’s classroom led to short projects at community centers and in after-school and summer school programs and eventually 501(c)3 status, inspiring partnerships, and a regular presence at multiple schools and community events. We can’t wait to see what’s next!