SkittleFest 2011


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.

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Clay Boggess
11 years ago

It is only putting a Band-Aid on the problem to restrict what happens at school. Parents at home must also step up more and practice proper nutrition as well in order to get to the root of the issue.

Kurt Bauman
Kurt Bauman
11 years ago

Skittlefest….hmmm Well, My son Trent is 10 years old and has type 1 diabetes and also Celiac Disease.  Going to school with donuts, cupcakes and icecream cones is a hurdle everyday.  Parents do ask what they can bring for him on special birthday parties but the reality is they really don’t understand either disease.  I know he is one of a few who have both these diseases but it certainly doesn’t make it any easier.  Education on food, health, diabetes and celiac is greatly needed in all schools.  Too many kids are still drinking regular soda everyday.  I wish there… Read more »

11 years ago

As a public school teacher married to a wonderful man with diabetes, I bristle at candy-loaded school events as well. In my school, the adults (mostly teachers, but also some parents) are truly the ones struggling with inner food conflicts, and it trickles right down to the kids. I don’t use any kinds of rewards in my first grade class apart from building gentle and trusting relationships with my students. That is enough. After having survived the first half of February with a birthday celebration nearly every day for two weeks topped off with the grand finale of Valentine’s Day (2… Read more »

Jessica Apple
11 years ago

I share your feelings, Jane, and have felt so much frustration about junk food in my sons’ school.  The event that makes me absolutely crazy is an annual “fundraising” carnival aka Happy Candy Day.
Your husband’s comment is right on.

Michelle Page-Alswager
11 years ago

@R, someone told me early on in parenting that punishments should be swift, sure, and relevant. I’ve turned that around to assess whether rewards are swift, sure, and relevant. Candy for classroom performance may be swift and sure, but it ain’t relevant. I think a classroom privilege would be more appropriate than high fructose corn syrup or any food. (Are kids dogs?) @A, thanks for the link. You’re right! That’s a good recommendation. @S, SkittleFest, I have since discovered, is a math event. Each child gets a bag of Skittles, and then they do all sorts of counting and the… Read more »

Sam Gellman
11 years ago

if you don’t mind my asking, I’m curious what skittlefest is and why a teacher would have interest in organizing such an event?  just seems a bit strange.  I’ve never had teachers who cared about candy one way or another.  but that was 15 years ago.

Amber @ Au Coeur
11 years ago

I would be annoyed too.  Do you read Spoonfed?  You’d probably enjoy it.

11 years ago

This irritates me, too.  When I was observing student teachers in Colorado, I can’t tell you how often they’d use candy to bribe/reward kids for participating in class discussions, getting correct answers on test reviews, etc.  I was *elated* to learn recently that WV has banned this practice in public schools, perhaps because of the whole Jamie Oliver kerfuffle.  It’s bad enough that school lunches are so dreadful, but when teachers make sugar part of their pedagogy, something is seriously wrong, both nutritionally and educationally.
(BTW, Jane, it’s so good to read you in yet another forum!)

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