The geographic service area of the Pasadena Unified School District and Pasadena Educational Foundation encompasses Altadena, Pasadena and Sierra Madre. The demographics of the nearly 18,500 students enrolled in the district, when compared to those of general population, reveal a community sharply divided along economic, geographic and ethnic lines. For example, while officially 12% of the 200,000 residents in the district service area live below the poverty line (source: US Census), 66% of PUSD's students qualify for the federal free/reduced-price meals program.
Sixteen of the district's eighteen elementary schools receive Title I funding based on the socio-economic characteristics of their students, and more than 66% of all students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. 59% of students are Latino, 13% are African-American, 18% are Caucasian, 7% are Asian/Pacific Islander and 3% are multiracial/other. 20% are English learners, and 11% of students are served for special needs. Almost 2% of PUSD students are in foster care, one of the highest rates among all districts in Los Angeles County.
30% of children living in this area attend private school, about three times the national average. Since the majority of privately-schooled children are from middle- and upper-income families, PUSD and PEF have the additional challenges of addressing the needs of a predominantly low-income, underserved population. Among these challenges are the health and environmental issues that affect families in low-income communities, including poor nutrition, lack of access to affordable fresh food, obesity, sub-standard housing, substance abuse, violence, lack of green space, and limited opportunities for physical activity.
Obesity in children is a particularly serious issue for our schools. In 2015, only 61% of all PUSD students met the state's Physical Fitness Test (PFT) minimum requirements for body composition (sources: PUSD and California Department of Education). While this continues a positive trend -- only 55% passed in 2013 -- it is still well below where the district and its students need to be. Body composition in children and youth is the most important indicator of risk for serious health problems later in life.
Childhood obesity rates of 21% within City of Pasadena and 26% for Altadena rank in the third quartile for Los Angeles County (2012 Pasadena Quality of Life Index and LA County Public Health Department Report). Adult obesity rates are 19% for Pasadena and 20% for Altadena. There are notable differences among races and ethnicities. For example, adult Latinos (29%) and African Americans (29%) have notably higher obesity rates than their White (18%). and Asian/Pacific Islander (9%) counterparts. These trends are reflected in the student population of PUSD. PEF and PUSD have received grant awards from a number of highly competitive federal programs for innovation in education and health, including a U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School planning grant in 2013 and a two-year Farm to School Implementation grant in 2015. These grants supported the design and implementation of programs that have greatly increased access to fresh fruit and vegetables for students throughout the district, expanded school gardens, and are educating students about healthier eating and promoting healthier living.
At the April 2016 conference of all current Farm to School grant recipients from across the nation, USDA officials said PUSD is a model program because of the integration of multiple departments and partners and the proven ability of the project leaders to manage an effective program with demonstrated impact. Specific innovations cited by the officials included:
- There is central coordinated leadership but most activities are site-driven, which results in more buy-in from school personnel
- The use of city rebate funds and joint-use agreements to facilitate removal of turf on school property and transform them into school gardens
- While the program is specifically designed to combat disparities in health exacerbated by socio-economic circumstances, it engages all students to encourage healthier lifestyles.