My youngest child is 10 years old and in the 5th grade at our neighborhood elementary school. I just got word that today her grade is celebrating SkittleFest 2011, an event that seems to have been organized by the teachers and that occurs annually.
This news raises my diabetic hackles.
Although my daughter does not have diabetes, and I know of only one child in the school who does, this to me is a violation of knowledge — nutritional knowledge. I live in Brookline, Massachusetts, a town that has one of the best public school systems in the state. It is well-funded by taxpayers. The teachers are carefully recruited, well educated, and wonderful all around. Class sizes are reasonable. The central administration regularly investigates and updates the curriculum. In this era of program cuts, we still have art, music, school libraries, gym class, and recess.
Yet despite all the resources and enthusiasm we invest in our local schools and the development of our children, we still (in my town) have a robust culture of junk food. Although the cafeteria lunch program has made efforts to improve the nutritional quality of its menu over the past several years, children who live in my town bring cupcakes into school — for the whole class — on their birthdays. Parent committees organize holiday celebrations around food. School groups raise money via in-school bake sales. Teachers reward children with candy. The mixed messages we send to our children about nutrition is not happening only in poor schools in West Virgina that Jamie Oliver has taken on as a project. It’s happening here.
Other local towns have adopted No Junk Food policies for the public schools. In nearby Belmont and Needham, the only food that children eat in school is the food served by the school lunch program or the food that children bring in their lunch boxes. Birthdays are celebrated in school with compliments or stickers and holidays remembered in song.
Why can’t we adopt such a policy in my town? I have called school committee members; I have sent an email to the head of dining services. Everyone is sympathetic, but there is no coalition. About this problem, my husband has drolly remarked: “This is how we show our love: high fructose corn syrup.”
Starting in kindergarten, in their academic classes, my children have been learning about nutrition, agriculture, and international food cultures. The right curriculum is in place. However, the food policies to reinforce the book knowledge and make it come alive for children are missing. What we say is this: follow the food pyramid and eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. And then we serve them Skittles.
Photograph by sunshinecity on Flickr, via a Creative Commons license.