Monday, May 18, 2009

over-eating and the public school system

Today on the Tyra Show they had kids who were overweight on the show. They brought in their parents and showed how they could change their child's eating habits and help their children to deal with their issues when it came to over-eating. I was glad for the show, and, I'll be honest, watch it most every day - TiVo'd, so I might be a few days behind the more avid every day viewer, and while I disagree with Tyra on some key things, I agree when it comes to showing that while beauty is on the inside, we should be healthy people on the outside as well.

One of the things that got to me most on the show was how one mom said that she partially blames her the American schools for her daughter's weight problem. She was, of course, reprimanded and told that obviously not every child at the school is obese so there must be something more, etc, etc, etc...

But the deal is this.

Yes, parents need to teach their children about healthy choices, provide healthy snacks, serve healthy meals... all of this helps kids to understand hwo to eat well and be healthy. But the mom had a point about the schools.

After I quit my job, I wrote a long blog on myspace about "my beef with the public school system". Nutrition was huge on my list. The things they serve at the public schools in this area... unreal.

I ate the school lunch almost every day while I worked at CHS until our financial situation became such that I could no longer afford to eat crappy food for $3 a plate when I could get my own crappy Spaghettio's for 68 cents a can.

The menu at CHS for the weekly lunches went something like this:

Monday: chicken nuggets, fries, milk, vegetable cooked in butter

Tuesday: chicken nuggets, tater tots, pizza (cheese or pepperoni), milk

Wednesday: spaghetti with meat sauce, bread stick with butter and garlic on it when you get it, milk

Thursday: chicken nuggets, pizza (cheese or pepperoni), milk, small salad comes with lunch

Friday: Shrimp poppers (mostly breading), macaroni and cheese, tater tots, broccoli in butter (overcooked)

First of all, I'm a vegetarian, so the meals were relatively impossible. I will grant the system that most days a salad bar was offered, but please, you can't eat salad bar every day. It's not balances, and the proteins offered on the salad bar were usually meat based (turkey or ham) or cheese, which is, when you need a lot of it, fattening. Many days I had salad, tater tots (a double order), and a roll.

There were also, on the menu, the occassional listing of tacos (about once every two weeks to once a month), and lasagna at about the same interval. There was also a turkey dinner (turkery and white bread slathered in gravy, cranberry sauce, instant mashed potatoes covered in gravy, and some buttery vegetable) before each major holiday as a special treat.

I in no way blame the cafeteria workers. There was a time when these wonderful women made soup themselves - wonderful soups - tortellini with spinach, black bean vegetable...but they had to hide the tasty and healthy soups when an inspector came, because all of the schools were required to serve the same meals. All three high schools and possibly (though I am not an authority on this) the middle and elementary schools as well.

I never saw a child eat breakfast at school, though I knew children who did not have the money for breakfast at home and I know that public schools supposedly offer this option. Never did I see a child in the six years I taught at the school and religiously went to the cafeteria in the morning for a cup of tea did I see one child eating breakfast. This is at a school with upwards of 1800 students. It's a tough thing to believe.

Why the unhealthy meals? Why the lack of a nutritious breakfast for kids who can't get it at home? Why the vending machines with soda and junk food?

I saw students dumping their lunch money into vending machines because they were starving at 10 AM and their lunch wasn't until seventh period, which was around 1:30 PM. Many teachers didn't allow students to eat in class because of the distraction, and students only had five minutes between classes, which, trust me from experience, is not even enough time to visit your locker if your next class is on the other side of the building, so kids grabbed snacks and gorged themselves between classes.

I feel that this is a huge disservice to our students.

How can we expect them to perform well in school if they are not provided with proper nutrition?

On top of that, I did an experiment in my final year of teaching at CHS. I bought an air purifier.

For years, the teachers in the teacher's lounge had been complaining about the air quality at the school. We felt that it may be contributing to a rise in discipline problems and poor performance as well as an increase in student apathy and sleeping in class. One of the science teachers even sent students on an experimental scavenger hunt to grow whatever grew on the walls and in the halls of CHS in petri dishes to examine it. They found all sorts of diseases, grime, mildrew, and mold - some toxic.

In the faculty lounge, the bottoms of the walls are literally crawling with mold. I have seen it personally.

But where are the kids supposed to go? Not every parent can afford private school and not every parent has the means to homeschool. You can't control things like this.

When I bought the air purifier I noted incredible things.

At first, kids were mostly distracted by the noise. Eventually, I noticded an increase in participation, a decline in discipline issues, and an increase in assignments completed and turned in by students when the work was done in class. I also saw an overall mood shift. Kids were
happier. Kids were more alert.

A little scary, no?

I can only imagine the changes if students at public schools were served a healthy breakfast in the morning: a fruit cart with free fruit and bagels each morning and free bottles of water with breakfast for every child. And lunches, just spending the money on good things - not cooking the vegetables in butter, balancing the meals properly and not counting the salad bar as the day's vegetable or the vegetarian entree.

And the air quality? Let's get some mold removed. Let's clean the air. Let's be serious about education and the health of our children in this country.

I know that this is a money issue, but please, where is your money better spent than on the future of the nation? People complain about how the school system is failing - let's put our money where our mouth is. Let's look at the real issues and stop blaming teachers who are working in a broken system. Let's fix the system!

I know this isn't my normal blog, but I do feel that school has a lot to do with our low self esteem issues, our pain, and seriously, the obesity problem in this country. I wish that people would just look around and fix these issues at their roots. Sure, that's the family, the parents, but it's also the school. Children who attend school spend more of their awake time with teachers and other school employees than with their parents. Let's take some responsiblity for how these children are raised.


Carrie said...

Love it. I wish I could remember the details - but I think it was on Oprah, several years ago - they featured a school out west that was where students with severe discipline/violence/drug issues went when they were expelled. One year, they began serving fresh, healthy meals - real salads, grilled lean meats, whole grains, etc. and they changed nothing else. There were huges reductions in discipline problems as well as some increases in academics.

As I teacher, I let my kids eat (allergen free) foods in class - against school rules. They can have drinks if its water - and they must keep it allll a secret! They love the privelage and have kept it hush hush :-) I wish I could say it was because I care - but evolved from ME being thirsty and ME not being able to teach and be nice from 830-130 with out snackage!

Beth said...

I agree with you! It was a privilege for me to be able to Homeschool my kids as long as I did, and is certainly not a likely option in families where either both parents need to work, or in single-parent homes. For the same reasons,private schools are not likely options, either, unless we offer needy families vouchers, as has been done in some inner cities with outstanding results.
While not all obesity problems stem from diet issues alone, the case can still be made that "school nutrition" is a joke. I agree that it is not the fault of Faculty or staff. Both my parents were teachers; my dad taught Public High School Math and my mom taught first grade in a private Christian school. I attended the same High School, and the change from cafeteria workers being permitted to do their thing (which had included many 'made from scratch' meals in my childhood) to standardized crap food had just taken place. Even in the late 70's you couldn't get a decent meal at school.
My mom's school didn't provide anything except milk.Students brought their lunches. These were eaten in the classroom, and the Teachers ate with their students. (No Union breaks!)Quite a difference. Even a slab of cheese or PBJ on a sandwich was far better food than what was being offered up as mandatory "hot lunch" by the Public School counterparts. Some of the students in the school were under-privileged children who were there on scholarships. People looked out for them, and met their needs. There was not an atmosphere of "oh god, what if the school is sued for doing something?",which I have seen increasingly dominate every blessed activity in schools today.
The suggestions you advocate would not necessarily be more expensive.First of all, the real reason the food is cooked (meaning, 'overcooked') is not because 'hot lunch' sounds so nice,but to kill any germs in the food. This is rather ridiculous, since fresh food is served anyway, and let's face it, the kids themselves are the prime germ vectors!Two of my daughters got mono; I also found that they shared soda cans with friends at school. My point is that you could reduce costs in the area of time and energy being used to cook foods into oblivion.Put out simple foods.
Then, start looking at what ends up in the trash. It amounts to about half of the total food provided-either wasted by the students or required by law in the kitchen.
My son didn't eat much at school.It was too crappy, and took too long to get, anyway. Sometimes the kid with the free lunch didn't finish his fries and shared. Then my son came home starving, and exhausted, and that doesn't make you want the best things, either. Most teenage boys are pretty ravenous, and where they put all they eat, nobody knows. Not in my son's case, however. He would eat in late evening, then starve all day at school. Not good.Teenagers are going to grab whatever is sitting there that is the lowest common denominator...if it is donuts and fruit, most of them are picking the donuts.It seems the current thinking is to give them no opportunity to eat either one.
Changing the monolithic system is difficult, at best. At least there is some attention being given school nutrition and the lack thereof. Your air quality, now, that's a whole 'nother thing...

Missy said...

Thanks so much for the comments. Sorry I have been somewhat lax in my responses lately. That's amazing, Carrie, that study, wish I could've seen it, but don't doubt it AT ALL! So true about all of it. And Beth, I agree about the homeschooling and yeah - I went to a school that had somewhat decent lunch on many days, but taught at a school that never did. I just don't understand it one little bit. This country claims to value education, but actions speak louder than words.

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