By Patricia L. Fitzgerald 2014-07-28 23:58:49
What “tall tales” of healthy school environments will your student customers tell their children? THE HOUR HAS GROWN VERY LATE on this hot summer evening in 2034. I should turn on my television (I just can’t seem to stop referring to it as such) and catch up with the livestream of SNA’s 88th Annual National Conference in San Francisco; Bruno Mars is the headliner of the Final Event—I love it when they bring back the vintage rock stars! But I’ve been babysitting my young grand-godkids all day, and they have worn me out. It is time for them—and me—to go to bed! The article I need to write for the magazine (I just can’t seem to stop referring to it as such) will keep until tomorrow. Of course, as soon as I announce that bedtime has arrived, they beg and plead and wheedle for a little more time. I want to be resolute, but then little Miley (isn’t it amazing how these old-fashioned names come back in vogue?) asks me a question: “What are you writing, Aunt Patty?” I pull her onto my lap, while powering down my computer (I just can’t seem to stop referring to it as such) and explain that it’s a history project for work. “Did you know,” I begin, “that once upon a time, school cafeterias were little havens of nutrition? Sometimes they were the only place in the entire school where you could find a vegetable!” “Oh, Aunt Patty, you’re making that up!” her big sister Katniss scoffs, as she, too, snuggles in close. “I’m not,” I insist. “There was a time, not that long ago, when schools didn’t teach anything about nutrition. Teachers gave out candy when you did well on a quiz. Parents brought giant, sugary cupcakes to your classroom so you and your friends could celebrate your birthday. Some school vending machines stocked only soda pop. School clubs would sell cookie dough and cheesecake to raise money for special activities.” Their eyes grow wide with amazement. “Many schools didn’t even offer breakfast, and lunch might be served as early as 10:30 in the morning—plus you only had 10 to 20 minutes to get your meal and eat it,” I continue. “School gardens were rare, and many kids truly didn’t realize that honey came from bees or that milk came from cows or that quinoa was a grain.” The girls clearly can’t fathom what I am recounting of days only 20 years in the past. “Ask your parents,” I urge them. “They’ll remember.” “But when did it all change?” they ask. It’s a very good question, one I’m not sure how to answer. Some will assert that sustainable changes made in an effort to create healthy school environments began in SY 2014-15, when the Smart Snacks in Schools rule regarding nutrition standards for all foods and beverages available in schools was implemented and the local school wellness policy requirements initially established in 2004 were strengthened and expanded. But others will insist that it was actually 2004 that should be considered the watershed year for coordinating a whole-school approach to child health. Still others will contend that the seeds of change were planted years earlier, growing slowly, but steadily. In 2034, I probably won’t be able to pinpoint exactly when truly longstanding changes took irreversible hold. After all, now in 2014, there are certain longstanding realities about school meal operations that still come as a surprise to John and Jane Doe. (What? Most schools removed deep-fat fryers a decade ago?! You serve fresh produce?! There’s whole-grain flour in the pizza crust?! How long has that been going on?!) Positive change has come outside of the cafeteria, too. Back in August 2006, School Nutrition published a series of reproducible flyers aimed to help administrators, teachers, coaches, parents and students, too, to work with the school nutrition department in creating healthy school environments. The “Growing Healthy Children in OUR Schools” resource defined the challenges, as well as stakeholder roles, and offered tips and suggestions for improving classroom parties, academic incentives, school fundraisers and more. It’s gratifying in 2014 to learn about individual communities that are taking proactive steps to create this kind of change—whether they came to their ideas through School Nutrition and SNA or through such allied groups and initiatives as Team Nutrition, Action for Healthy Kids, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and more. Let’s take a look at some inspiring examples in action from all corners of America. Pass these along to principals, superintendents, school nurses, coaches and PTA/PTO leaders in your community. Work together to seek out partners among non-profit agencies and advocacy groups—can any of them help with grant funding, programming, technical assistance or expert speakers? Don’t limit yourself to the most obvious allies; reach out to pediatricians, hospitals, children’s theaters, church groups and so on. The African proverb about it taking an entire village to raise a child resonates more clearly today than ever—as the stories that follow demonstrate. Fun, Not (Necessarily) Food Once upon a time, students at Fairview Elementary School, Klamath Falls, Ore., could purchase beef jerky from the school office. Selling chocolate candy bars was an annual fundraiser. But when Principal Tony Swan came onboard, he recognized that these traditions sent the wrong messages to students about food—and competed with the nutritious offerings of the school lunch program. In cooperation with a wellness council, Swan removed all snack food and beverages available outside of the cafeteria. The fundraiser was replaced with a pledgebased walk-a-thon, involving students and their families. There’s some friendly competition among classes, with the ones that raise the most money earning an activity-based prize, such as a rollerskating party. The proverbial “icing on top”? The school is raising 40% more than it did with competitive food sales and the food-based fundraiser. Replacing a traditional, but relatively routine candy-bar fundraiser is one thing. It can be a lot harder to ask the community to sunset a unique and much-anticipated “event.” Kudos to the school wellness council at Albuquerque’s Monte Vista Elementary School, which took on the challenge of finding a worthy alternative to the popular “Cake Walk” fundraiser, in which participants purchased tickets to play a musical chairs-type game in order to win a cake. Welcome the “Blender Bike.” Start with a donated bike, add a standard blender and make a few MacGyver-like adjustments and presto!: You have a human-powered bike blender to make smoothies and other foods. [Editors’ Note: Finding this hard to visualize? Us, too. But it’s amazing what you can find with a simple Internet search: www.instructables.com/id/Bike-Blender] The PTO retains custody of the bike, maintaining a schedule for teachers and fundraisers. Students associate riding a bike with rewards and fun—and they’ve learned how to make a healthy snack! Some parents have used it for healthier birthday celebrations, bringing in ingredients, but letting the kids make smoothies. Atherton Community Schools, a small district in Burton, Mich., started making coordinated school health improvements back in 2009. Today, at the elementary school, students not only start the day with breakfast in the classroom, but also a 20-minute walk in the gym! Recess is scheduled before lunch, and gym time has been doubled, from 45 to 90 minutes a week. Healthy snacks replace birthday cupcakes, and kids are proving to be more engaged in coming up with imaginative ideas (fruit kebabs, healthy mini pizzas) than when parents simply picked up sugary treats at the supermarket. Stakeholder support ensures the program is sustainable and that the culture makes a permanent shift. Principal Susanne Carpenter never knows when she’s going to walk down the hall and see a teacher doing Zumba with her students! In Elizabeth, N.J., 7th-grade teacher Rebecca Wurman at LaCorte-Peterstown School 3 is an active member of the School Wellness Committee. When her class won a school-wide competition, she struggled in accepting the promised reward of an ice cream party. She pitched an alternative to Principal Jennifer Campel, suggesting that her students challenge the class that won second place to a kickball game in the park. While students were initially disappointed by the change of plans, they soon got into the spirit, making team t-shirts and enjoying a fun—and different—afternoon together with their teacher. Put on a Show In many parts of the country, the school district is the hub of the community, with residents—even those without students— coming out to support local sports teams, concerts, art shows, theatrical performances and more. In this spirit, more and more schools and districts are sponsoring community health fairs. Many of these are organized outright or well supported by the school nutrition team. Gay Anderson, SNS, child nutrition director at Brandon Valley (S.D.) School District, provides vital assistance to a biannual community health fair, which started with 1,000 attendees and continues to grow every year. In the Harrisburg (Ark.) School District, CN Director Dolores Sutterfield always rallies a team of employees to create a booth and organize fun activities for students and parents. Sometimes such wellness events are organized solely for the benefit of district employees. For example, in Thomasville City (N.C.) Schools, Child Nutrition Director Brenda Watford gets teachers involved in the annual wellness fair. In Phoenix, Ariz., recently retired Director of Food and Nutrition Catherine Giza, SNS, annually coordinated a Wellness Expo for all employees of the Chandler Unified School District. Each year, up to 1,000 people attend the full-day event, gaining information, participating in educational workshops, obtaining medical screenings and vaccinations—even shopping at a free mini Farmers’ Market. Giza made all the arrangements for more than 50 speakers and exhibitors, as well as securing donations for prizes. Healthy Revenues Plattsmouth (Neb.) High School Principal Jeff Wiles was resigned to losing some valuable revenue after removing all full-calorie beverages from vending machines. Imagine his delighted surprise to learn that revenue has stayed fairly consistent, if not actually risen higher! Today they sell as many bottles of water as they sold of soda five years ago. And with this success, the school wellness council—which includes student members— decided to set a policy that prohibits kids from bringing fullcalorie drinks from home into the school; this ultimately led to no outside food or beverages being permitted on campus. The wellness council operates, with assistance from the foodservice department, a mid-morning “fruit cart,” which makes the rounds three times a week, offering whole and cut fruit. In its first semester of operation, it turned a $240 profit. The other two days of the week, the school culinary team turns the cart into the “Bake Shoppe,” featuring lowfat muffins and popcorn. Wiles offers advice to other administrators and stakeholders: Empower your students to be leaders in the area of food and nutrition; take small steps and be patient; and adopt a monopolist attitude by setting strong rules and sticking by them. Having adopted a strict beverage policy back in 2006 means that most students in the Philadelphia School District have never attended a school that sold drinks other than water, milk or 100% fruit juice. Today, in an ongoing effort to persuade kids to support the school nutrition program, water is the cheapest item on the a la carte line—and it’s 25 cents cheaper than from a vending machine. Getting in the Groove Five, six, seven, eight! Every morning, right after the Pledge of Alliance, all the students, teachers and staff at Little Fort Elementary in Waukegan, Ill., “dance it out” to kick off the day with a burst of energy. The mandatory “Morning Music” activity lasts five minutes and features student-requested songs (ranging from Beatles standards to Top 40 hits and Disney songs). Not only does it help students to focus, but it has been a catalyst for a culture shift for incorporating more activity into the school day. The all-school activity was the brain child of school nurse Mary Colver, who was concerned that students had only 25 minutes of physical education each day, instead of the recommended 30 minutes. She armed herself with research on the benefits of physical activity on academic performance and made her case to the school principal. And with the success of “Morning Music,” Colver continues to seek new, creative ways to integrate physical activity into the school day, such as adding a dance and movement element to music class. It’s amazing what can come about with a little out-of-the-box thinking and a willingness to make small changes. Coming Together Small changes certainly work—and so do audacious collaborations. In Connecticut, four school districts (Ansonia, Derby, Seymour and Shelton) are actively involved in the Valley Initiative to Advance Health & Learning in Schools (VITAHLS), a campaign to reduce the prevalence of obesity in school-age children through the integration of a variety of nutrition and physical activity programming into the existing school structure. Instead of reinventing the wheel at each district, the group has developed projects that can be replicated easily or done in coordination with other schools and districts. For example, in addition to promoting classroom activities to teach fitness and nutrition education, as well as conducting BMI testing, this spring, the group sponsored the first Healthy Cooking Challenge among sixth-grade students at each of the four school districts. The young chefs first competed against their classmates, and the winners from each district competition went on to the finals, held in the kitchen of a local restaurant. Seymour Foodservice Director Cindy Brooks is proud to be part of a genuine communitybased effort to address child obesity alongside other school nutrition professionals, nurses, administrators and physical education teachers, plus area farmers, the state department of education and a team from the Yale-Griffin Research Center. Nothing Stays the Same “It’s not your parents’ school lunch.” That’s a marketing hook that SNA and many of its members use to wake up the public to the realities of today’s school nutrition operations. Surely, it will still be a valid declaration in 2034, as improvements continue and today’s students regale their children with tales of the “old days.” Let’s hope that the story isn’t set solely in the cafeteria, but features “unbelievable” changes all throughout the school! Patricia Fitzgerald is editor of School Nutrition. Many of the case studies featured in this article come courtesy of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program. For more success stories and tips about creating healthy school environments, visit www.healthiergeneration.org/take_action/schools/swap_your_snack/. Photography by kzenon, Valua Vitaly and ZoonarRF/jiunlimited.com.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.