Learning The Hard Facts On Chocolate MilkWed 22 Jun 2011
Story by Leila Hosseinali
Hazel Dell Elementary is a small school in the city of Springfield, IL that decided to make some big changes last school year.
Our staff’s opening day in service began with a presentation by Dr. Kemia Sarraf, a local doctor who heads the genH program promoting healthy lifestyles for children. She talked with us about some ways to promote movement in our students and showed us some shocking statistics about the food that our students were being served, in particular chocolate milk.
The statistic that really hit home for all of us was when she displayed a picture of a few beverages, including soft drinks and chocolate milk, with the amount of sugar cubes equivalent to the sugar content in each drink. You could hear the gasps as the slide went up. It was obvious that none of us realized just how much sugar was really in a small carton of chocolate milk.
Our school has about 200 students with around 70% of them low-income. As a result, most of our students are provided with both breakfast and lunch at school. That meant that our students were receiving twice that horrifying amount of sugar each school day. How could they be expected to sit in class attentively and learn?
After the initial shock wore off, our staff began discussing what changes we could make immediately to start our year off promoting healthy practices for our students. We made the decision that day to remove chocolate milk as an option for our students. They would have the choice of skim milk or 2% for their breakfast and lunch.
Another big change we made with our food service was to serve wheat bread. Then, to encourage a better opportunity for activity, we switched lunch and recess so kids would play first and then eat lunch. We also discussed ways we could incorporate brain breaks into the classroom that would get students up and moving around rather than just expecting them to sit all day.
Initially, we didn’t have much of a response regarding the chocolate milk - most of the kids didn’t even notice that there was any difference in their milk choices. Only a couple of parents really had a problem with us not offering chocolate milk and their criticism wasn’t based on dietary concerns, but rather on not wanting the school to make decisions they thought they should be making for their children.
The topic of our chocolate milk ban made its way to a school board meeting and was discussed amongst the board members. Although the board didn’t have a problem with our choice it soon was picked up by the local media. Over the next couple of weeks we received positive and negative feedback. The local newspaper wrote an article in support of what we were trying to do and why, but the comments on the newspaper’s site were weighted against what we were doing. One local radio station slammed us for two days even with our principal, Michael Grossen, going on their shows providing statistics to support our decision. Many thought that we should not be controlling what our students are eating and drinking even though our curriculum includes standards in Health.
Soon all the hype died down, and we went on our business of teaching our students. However, we did have occasional milk counts from our food services department to make sure that our students were still drinking milk. We held health fairs for our students and families and continued with the healthy practices we had set in place.
As staff, we noticed positive changes in our students’ behavior after lunch. We were so happy that our students weren’t coming in to class on sugar highs any longer! We are proud that we all stood together for what we believe was in the best interest for our students and school.
About the author: Leila Hosseinali is a Second Grade teacher at Hazel Dell Elementary in Springfield, IL. Leila & her husband own a restaurant in downtown Springfield, ‘The Garden of Eat’n’ which serves salads and wraps made with fresh vegetables and fruit and nothing fried!
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