Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons license

Yesterday and today on the RRG Facebook page, there’s been a lot of discussion about candy Valentines and junk food at school parties, in general.  If you haven’t been privy to all of that, I’ll sum it up by saying that quite literally, my two boys came home from school on Valentine’s Day with so much candy from classmates that it truly could have been a re-stocking of their trick-or-treat bags.  I’m not into the whole “candy is evil and should be eradicated from the earth” stance, but neither do I think that a holiday that used to be about exchanging corny notes and crafts and showing loving kindess to one another should now be a competition for who can attach the biggest, sugariest, junkiest bag of red-dyed crap to their cards (or skip the cards altogether and just pass out candy, as if this really were just Halloween in February).

I don’t know why this is my tipping point, but after many months of acclimating to L.’s new school and keeping my mouth shut about various food-related annoyances, the tumbling mess of Sweet Tarts and Fun Dip packs that my son shook out of his backpack last night sent me over the edge.  Cap that off with the fact that he then had a “big piece of birthday cake” (his words) for a classmate’s birthday today, and I’m feeling as if there’s just nowhere to go to escape the sugarsplosion that constitutes an elementary school education these days.  So I decided to speak up and draft a letter to his principal, which many Facebook friends have urged me to share.  Here it is — freshly sent, so no response yet, but this is what I came up with to open the conversation with L.’s school.  Maybe it will help some of you figure out how to get your own ball rolling, too.

Dear (Very Nice Principal Guy),

I want to start by telling you that we’ve been so pleased with (super-great school) this year.  L. has had an absolutely wonderful Kindergarten experience so far, thanks in large part to (TOTALLY FABULOUS KINDERGARTEN TEACHER), and we are certainly looking forward to many more great school years with the (super-great school) community!

However, I wondered if I could open up a line of communication with you regarding the school’s wellness curriculum and philosophy about student health.  I realized that I don’t even know if (super-great school) has a Wellness Policy in place, or if there is such a policy administered at a higher level that governs Catholic schools in our area.  There are a few things about health and wellness at (super-great school) that I’m very pleased with, but a few others that have given me pause for concern throughout the year.  These challenges are minor and are certainly not unique to (Super-great school) – I think they’re things that many schools and families struggle with to some degree or another – but I felt it may be time to begin a dialogue with you about them and get a better understanding of your point of view.

Mainly, I think, I see a mixed message being sent.  You have a health and wellness curriculum that’s being taught to the children, and L. reminds me consistently of a “no-candy” rule (whether that’s Totally Fabulous Kindergarten Teacher’s rule or a school rule, I’m not certain, but he’s adamant about it, and I know it has been enforced in the lunchroom on at least one occasion).  Unfortunately, when the After-School program consistently hands out candy, ice cream, and junk food snacks to the children, and when “special” events like Halloween and Valentine’s Day open up the floodgates to parents sending in large amounts of candy to be shared and sent home with friends, I think it can be confusing as to where the line has been drawn.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t advocate banning all class celebrations or anything like that.  But I’ve noticed a frustrating amount of candy and junk food coming home with L. at different points during the year, as well as being served at school/in the After School program.  I hesitated about speaking up, but I think the way a school community approaches food-based celebrations, rewards, and activities sends a subtle but clear message to its students about the way sweets and treats should be appropriately managed and incorporated into their lives.  When there is a wellness curriculum in place, as I know there has been, the “healthful living” messages taught in those class sessions can sometimes be overshadowed or unintentionally contradicted by the food culture students experience regularly.

In the current social climate, childhood obesity and diet-related diseases have skyrocketed, and no community is immune.  It’s easy to say of each incident, “It’s just once a year!” but in fact, 24 children in a class celebrating 24 birthdays with cupcakes constitutes a full month of classroom time in which they’d theoretically get a daily dessert; several holidays have already occurred at this point in the year which have added exponentially to the sweets and unhealthy modeling; and if families participated in all the fundraisers, etc., there are even more opportunities to eat pizza at Uno’s, buy sugary cereals and snacks for the Box Tops, get fries and sodas at the (major superhuge school event), and on and on, all in the name of school spirit.  Suddenly it seems to me to be not so easy to just pass it all off as “only once;” and with the health of children in our country and our very neighborhood declining with each passing year, it’s no longer just as easy as thinking of candy and brownies as regular rites of childhood.

I think of (super great school) as a place that really cares about the students and families and wants the best for them.  When I see you making wonderful efforts – with wellness classes, with physical education, with lunch periods of appropriate length, with recess time that far exceeds the poor standard set by public schools – I feel proud and grateful.  I just also feel as if there’s a lack of consistency in the way those ideals are followed through on in the daily life of the school, and I wonder if this is something that you’ve considered.

It’s time for me to stop talking now and hear your thoughts.  I truly want to know what your feelings are about student wellness at (super great school), and the ways in which you envision the policies around health-related issues supporting student achievement, behavior, and academic and social-emotional excellence.  Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.  I look forward to having the chance to talk with you further. 

Kindest Regards,

(L.’s mom)