I was at the board meeting last year when a small band of animal-rights-activists-cum-vegans foisted their extremists views on a captive audience of more than ten thousand schoolchildren as apathetic and uninvolved parents slept.
The Wellness Committee of the City School District of New Rochelle worked diligently to develop a Student Wellness Policy for recommendation to the Board of Education last spring. This policy was adopted by the Board of Education in July and implementation took place in September. At this time, many of the students have embraced the new, healthier menu items.
Students “embraced” the new menu? Many children in New Rochelle eat a majority of the meals each week at school. What choice did they have – eat what is put in front of them or starve? Should they skip breakfast and lunch five days a week in protest?
I was reminded of all this because today’s New York Times is reporting on the demise of school bake sales and other food and sweets related fund-raising activities in California public schools.
The old-fashioned school bake sale, once as American as apple pie, is fast becoming obsolete in California, a result of strict new state nutrition standards for public schools that regulate the types of food that can be sold to students.
This is what was supposed to happen in New Rochelle, except that bake sales at school have not stopped. After a very brief hiatus, PTA bakes sales are back. I have attended a dozen school events in the past year where “unsanctioned food products” were sold to students to raise money for some worthy cause. As many parents know, the “no cupcakes” rule is routinely ignored (to their credit) by classroom teachers.
Why makes rules you have no intention of enforcing? Why allow a handful of people – some of whom do not even have children in the schools – to drive policy? What message does it send to children that the district makes rules it does not follow. This is “parenting” 101, isn’t it? Consistency, reasonableness and fairness are central to effective discipline – kids need to know the boundaries but adult need to be reasonable in setting those boundaries. That the District was unable to follow its own policies just a few months after approving the work of the “food nazis” is the definition of a flawed and failed policy.
Then there is the law of unintended consequences:
– Students at New Rochelle High School have been threatened with suspensions for sharing candy. This in response to “black market” in candy that has sprung up where “candy dealers” store contraband Snickers bars and Cokes in their backpacks and hall lockers.
– Stroll down to the corner of North Avenue and Eastchester Road around lunchtime on any given school day and you will find a parade of students leaving the grounds of the high school without permission to dine at “health food” restaunrants like Chicken Joes, McDonald’s, The Beechmnt Tavern and assorted pizza and stir-fry joints. The crowd in the parking lot at McDonald’s is so crowded on a nice day that you can often find three or four NRPD squad cars camped out there, keeping an eye on the kids. It is reported that melee that broke out on Main Street a few months ago involving up to fifty kids (two ended up in the hospital) had its origins in a dispute at the McDonald’s on North Avenue.
– many parents report their children skip lunch and wait until they get home to eat so they can eat “real” food. What effect does that have on behavior and performance?
Rather than FORCE students to make healthy food choices (in other words, to give them no choice at all) why not give them incentives to make healthy choices like giving away fresh fruit in the cafeteria and raising prices on “bad” food like cookies. Instead of pretending to ban cupcakes at birthday parties or PTA bake sales and then turning a blind eye why not use these events to teach kids about making balanced choices (e.g., cupcakes as a special treat not the norm)?