Sometimes it can be difficult to celebrate the end of the year in a healthy way. Fortunately, schools are making a tremendous effort to replace sugary snacks and junk food rewards for healthy alternatives, including cheese, crackers, fruit, yogurt, veggie chips, fruit smoothies and guacamole. Providing students with regular access to unhealthy foods at school undermines school-wide efforts to promote healthy eating. In 2012, Chicago Public Schools adopted a policy that outlines nutrition standards for food available to students outside the school lunch program, including school celebrations. Schools are encouraged to focus on fun rather than candy and cupcakes during celebrations.
How have students reacted to these changes to their end-of-year celebrations? One Chicago Public Schools elementary teacher described how her students embraced the changes: “They were interested in trying new foods. Most of the students had never tasted some of the snacks,” she said. “I introduced the students to different kinds of fruits—apricot, mango, kiwi, blackberry, raspberry. And they especially enjoyed making and tasting guacamole for the first time. Not only were they excited about tasting these healthy foods, but they couldn’t wait to go home to share their experiences and new found taste buds with their parents.”
But celebrations at the end of the year consist of more than just replacing sugary snacks with healthy foods. Throughout the school year, parents are encouraged to bring in pencils, stickers and erasers as rewards for students’ hard work. In addition, fun, physical activities play an integral role in the celebrations! Students have enjoyed exercise and playing games outside.
The year culminates in celebrations that promote healthy eating and activities. One CPS teacher mentioned her school’s commitment to healthier celebrations. “Our end-of-the-year activity will be a dance.” Another teacher said that she and her students celebrated by having a year-end reading contest: “The class that read the most minutes got 30 minutes extra recess.” And although Valentine’s Day isn’t technically an end-of-the-school-year celebration, it can be one of the most difficult parties to put on without sugary snacks and candy. But one school came up with a wonderful alternative: a sock hop dance for a healthy heart!
Kanoon Elementary Magnet School teacher Eva Delgado described the school’s approach to an innovative celebration: Olympics Day at Kanoon. “Kanoon Olympics is an end-of-year celebration where there are four events: gymnastics, track, field and soccer games,” says Eva. “There are four levels for competition: K-1st, 2nd-3rd, 4th-5th and 6th-8th.” The gymnastics competition includes olympic rings, low balance beam and floor exercises. There are numerous other fun and active events and winners get gold, silver and bronze medals. “We have a podium for the students to stand on in the awards ceremony held at the end of the competition,” Eva says. This year’s Olympics will be on Thursday, June 16.
Teachers themselves have become more conscientious about their own health and wellness. “Together, we learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy choices,” says once CPS teacher. “We learn about a different fruit and vegetable every week.” One teacher discussed how she brought in her green breakfast smoothie and her class was intrigued by it. Healthy eating has affected the way she ate at home as well. This shift in school culture and modeling behavior has facilitated the implementation of healthy end-of-the-year celebrations.
With so many options for healthy celebrations, it’s no wonder that unhealthy snacks and sedentary activities are becoming a thing of the past. We’re thrilled that so many schools have embraced and implemented these new and unique ways to commemorate the end of a successful school year! For more information on healthy school celebrations, check out our Healthy Celebrations and Rewards resource. You can also learn tips and tricks on how to integrate physical activity throughout the school day and year by signing up for our Fit to Learn program, which is now recruiting for the summer.