Removing Candy from the Valentine’s Day School Equation

January 21, 2015

Since 2012, schools across Chicago have been moving beyond the candy-filled school celebrations with fun and healthy classroom celebration ideas.

Rose are red, violets are blue, candy is sweet, but not good for you.

Since 2012, schools across Chicago have been moving beyond the candy-filled school celebrations with fun and healthy classroom celebration ideas. This move was sparked by Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) district-wide School Wellness Policy and Healthy Snack and Beverage Policy that limits the number of school celebrations that include foods of minimal nutritional value — meaning pizza parties and classroom parties with candy are limited to twice a year, and any food offered as a reward or as part of a school celebration must meet the requirements of the Board’s Healthy Snack and Beverage Policy.

New in 2015, CPS Nutrition Support Services offers a special menu for teachers to swap the sweets for healthier options, allowing teachers to order in advance for classroom celebrations. The menu includes fruit, vegetable and cheese trays, as well as individual snacks such as string cheese and animal crackers.

A staple of Valentine’s Day has long been the exchange of sugary treats, such as candy and baked goods. Rather than think of the new celebration rules as being restrictive or heavy-handed, school leaders are working to find creative, fun and healthy ways to celebrate holidays. Many of these schools have worked with Healthy Schools Campaign’s Fit to Learn program, a professional development program that encourages teachers and principals to take a leadership role on health and wellness in their classrooms and schools, creating a culture that motivates students and fellow staff to make healthy choices.

One such school is Ariel Elementary Community Academy, where teacher Cherianne Barry turned last year’s Valentine’s Day into an opportunity to teach her students about the inner workings of the heart. She taught them how to maintain a healthy heart by eating nutritious food and engaging in plenty of physical activity. “My goal is to reinvent Valentine’s Day into a wholesome and nutritious week of healthy learning,” Barry says.

Anne Gillespie, principal of the Academy for Global Citizenship and a member of Fit to Learn’s advisory committee, kept the core idea of the Valentine’s Day card exchange, but instead had her students create their own small crafts that they exchange with other grade levels.

Allison Slade, the executive director of Namaste Charter School in Chicago and a member of Fit to Learn’s advisory committee, changes the focus of the holiday altogether. Instead of passing out candy or cards or even crafts, Namaste students celebrate with a special themed week. “Every year leading up to Valentine’s Day, we do a Kindness Week to represent the love and caring that is Valentine’s Day,” Slade says.

This year, the Great Kindness Challenge week at Namaste will include a door-decorating contest that culminates on the final day of the week with the announcement of the winners followed by a fresh fruit salad party. Namaste integrates health and wellness—physical, psychological and emotional—into the classroom agenda every single day. And many of the week’s activities involve movement, such as the dance contest and “clean up the community” walks at recess.

With activities like that, the students will be so busy dancing and decorating they won’t have time to miss the sugary snacks.