Student Bodies Matter at Alisal
New no-junk-food policy seeks to keep kids healthy.
Thursday, June 24, 2004
Eddie used to be a chubby fourth grader at Bardin School. Then he sat through a full year of nutrition classes that taught him about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables every day.
“On his own,” says Suzanne du Verrier, the food service director for the Alisal Union School District, the one who’s telling Eddie’s story, “he decided he wanted to lose weight, and he decided to cut out all junk food during the summer.”
Eddie lost 21 pounds during the summer between his fourth and fifth grade year.
“But what got to me was when he said, ‘Now I have friends,’” du Verrier says. “I figure if we reached one child, we did our job.”
Actually, du Verrier and company are reaching about 7,500 kids—and their parents—through the elementary school district’s new, no-junk food policy, which aims to teach families about the benefits of eating healthy foods and exercising regularly.
Earlier this month, the school district won a 2004 Superintendent’s Challenge Award from the state Department of Education for its nutrition education and food rules.
This fall, when the district’s elementary students return to the classroom, all food and drink on campus will be nutritious.
“We’re saying that the children’s physical well-being is as important to us as their intellectual well-being,” du Verrier says. “And, in fact, without the physical well-being it makes it difficult to learn.”
The new policy is the latest in a series of initiatives that Alisal has enacted regarding student nutrition. Two years ago, each school put a kid-sized salad bar in its cafeteria. Each and every child in Alisal’s 11 schools eats a free breakfast, lunch and an after-school snack at their school.
District-wide nutrition policies that encourage the use of local produce mean that the students are able to fill their trays with fresh lettuce, snow peas, grapes and strawberries from local farms and school gardens.
And now, Alisal teachers and administrators are in the process of implementing a new health and nutrition policy that bans junk food from campuses. It’s the only district in the county to have such a progressive food policy.
Of the 1,056 schools districts in California, a dozen received state grants this year to help implement no-junk food policies, according to a Mike Danzik, a nutrition education specialist.
According to the new rules—which were approved by the school board last December, but will be “intensely rolled out” to teachers and parents this fall, du Verrier says, all junk food will be off the menu.
This means that teachers won’t be giving out candy as rewards, and students won’t sell cookie dough or chocolate bars for fundraisers. Fruit cups will replace cup cakes at class parties, and all food and snacks sent to school with the students must be of good nutritional content.
“We don’t want junk food on our campuses,” du Verrier says plainly.
These new rules apply to students and teachers.
“Teachers are role models,” du Verrier says. “Teachers can’t smoke in front of children. Why should they eat candy or drink soda in front of children?”
Alisal staff, including a bilingual parent educator, will continue to work with parents to teach cooking and nutrition classes, and to suggest healthy alternatives for snacks and meals.
“Our parent educator meets with parents at school sites, and with migrant parents in the evenings,” du Verrier says. “She talks to the parents about nutrition, but she’s not negative about cultural foods. She teaches them how to make cultural food healthier.”
Think veggie burritos and fruit kabobs, for example.
Kari Bernardi, who works with the Farm to School program, says there’s an obesity epidemic nationally and here in Monterey County.
In Monterey County, Type 2 Diabetes among kids is “a significant public health problem, according to Dr. Wendy Farquhar, medical director for California Children’s Service. “It’s clear that obesity is rising in children, and almost all of our Type 2 Diabetes in children is directly related to obesity.”
About the Alisal district’s no-junk food policy, Farquhar says, “I think it’s fabulous. Encouraging and supporting and rewarding good eating habits early on is where we need to be. Schools are a great place to model that behavior and reward it.
“The nice thing about Monterey County is we live in an area where we are surrounded by fresh fruits and vegetables,” she continues. “That’s what we need—vending machines with fruits and vegetables in them.”
“These policies help increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption in the cafeterias,” Bernardi says. “For some of our school kids, lunch is the main meal of the day. We need to make sure the lunches we serve are of the highest nutritional value.”
(Full disclosure: The Monterey County Weekly Community Fund sponsors the Farm to School Partnership, a coalition of local groups that link farmers and schools.)
The Community Alliance for Family Farms’ Serena Coltrane-Briscoe has worked with the Alisal School District for the past two years, developing the nutrition policies and coordinating the local Farm to School program. This includes bringing local farmers into the classrooms to talk about food, farming and nutrition, taking the schools kids out to nearby farms, and working with the students in school gardens.
“So they get an idea where their food comes from and who grows it—and also how to grow it themselves,” Coltrane-Briscoe says.
She says the school district’s policies are growing a whole generation of kids who are more likely to try—and like—fresh fruits and vegetables.
“By getting the hands-on experience,” she says, “from planting the seeds, watering the plants, to harvesting them and putting them in a salad, or some other dish, the students really get a different perspective—on chard, for example. It’s no longer just this weird green at their mom’s house. They planted it, they watered it, and they protected it from bugs. It doesn’t matter what it is—they grew it, they are going to eat it.”