Making Celebrations Healthy by Focusing on Students

October 03, 2016 | Written By:

Every school has celebrations and festivities that are important to school culture and morale. The wellness policy stipulates that only two school-wide celebrations a year can serve foods of low nutritional value and encourages classroom teachers to make sure all foods served adhere to the wellness policy nutrition guidelines. Sugar-sweetened beverages, cakes, cookies and ice cream are out.

But this represents an opportunity for classroom teachers to ensure celebrations focus on the students and provide consistent messaging to students about health and wellness.

Ruiz Elementary School teacher Gricelda Perez—a graduate of HSC’s Fit to Learn professional development program that equips and motivates teachers to make health and wellness a regular part of the school experience while meeting learning goals—was inspired to change celebrations in her classroom. Instead of the sugar-filled birthday classroom celebrations, Ms. Perez asked her students’ parents to celebrate their child’s birthday in a new, healthy way: Parents and students select a storybook to read in their honor during the day’s read aloud session and parents are encouraged to come up with a healthy snack instead of cake and cupcakes to go along with the book. And students and parents have come up with many creative ways to connect their child’s favorite story with a healthy snack alternative. One student created a healthy snack from a banana that went along with Curious George Goes to the Aquarium and her favorite animal, the octopus. Another student chose The Very Hungry Caterpillar to read on her birthday and as a healthy snack, her mother brought in green grapes for students to make caterpillars by putting them on a skewer.

For birthdays, Jacob Beidler School teacher Allison Warner’s class reads the book I Love Birthdays by Anna Walker. She also lets children pick a prize from a classroom prize box and wear a crown or sash for the day. Warner has also created a birthday bulletin board for her classroom, and students are featured on the board on their birthdays.

At James Wadsworth Elementary School, Principal Shabazz has instituted a No Candy Halloween celebration where students take field trips to pumpkin patches and the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. Younger students participate in a costume parade and are given Cuties, easy-to-peel mandarins. The healthy celebrations don’t stop at Halloween. Throughout the year, the school celebrates attendance with a yogurt social and fundraises by selling raffle tickets to win bicycles to promote student fitness.

At Skinner North: “We want our kids to be healthy,” said Principal Ethan Netterstrom. He explained that as educators, he and his staff realize that children’s needs are not only academic but also emotional, social and physical. “If kids only learn to be academically fit, it is not enough. They have to be thoughtful members of society and have active lifestyles.”

Since the school opened in 2009, staff have felt strongly about rewarding kids with things other than sweets or pizza. Instead, teachers will celebrate children’s birthdays at morning meeting circles and in the classrooms by requesting children share compliments about the birthday child. Children are able to bring school supplies for goodies for their classmates.

For parent and founding wellness committee chairperson Hemlata Kumar, it was about making sure that what kids learn at home is reinforced at school and vice versa. “I want the children to learn about good nutrition at our school so they can understand how to make good choices and learn better. This is about creating long lasting habits that will ensure they will live healthy lives at school as well as at home,” she said.

You can read more about healthy celebrations and rewards in our Fit to Learn Tip Sheet.

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Note - updated to the HSC Newsletter list 1.3.2017 per the updated newsletter configuration