2006-05-04 / Front Page

Students are what they eat New policy to stem obesity read

By Donna K. Drago

The School Committee heard the first reading of a new Wellness Policy that will change the ways students eat and exercise while they are in school.

The policy was developed by the schools' Wellness Committee, which is co-chaired by school nurse Renie Sullivan and School Committee member James Filkins.

The policy outlines District Nutrition Standards, which requires that any food item sold at the school must contain no more than 30 percent fat. According to the policy, all snacks in the classroom "must be healthy," cannot be used as a "reward," and should be "store-bought as often as possible."

On beverages, only milk, water and drinks containing 50 to 100 percent fruit juices with "no added artificial or natural sweeteners added" can be sold during the day.

"Gum and candy are not allowed in school except as part of the curriculum or an individual learning plan," the policy says.

On fund-raising, the policy states that there will be no sales of food by outside organizations, as in Girl Scout cookies.

An addendum related to birthday and other celebrations, includes suggested ways that parents can celebrate their children's events without the use of food, or with healthy foods. The policy reads: "When providing food, in accordance with the school policy, please offer healthy snack choices," which are suggested on a separate flyer. These choices include "low-fat pudding cups," "cheese cubes," or a "fresh vegetable tray." A note after mini-cupcakes, says "very lightly frosted," and adds, "one per student." Other non-food ideas include donating a book to the school library in honor of the birthday or "engage students in a special art project."

"We expect there to be a lot of debate and discussion among teachers," said School Superintendent Kathy Sipala.

Sipala said the important thing that the policy seeks to clarify is that "we don't want a lot of food in the school." She noted, "We don't want everything centered on food."

Jim Filkins, who co-chaired the Wellness Committee, said that the policy attempts to "establish a culture of health" at a time when childhood obesity is rampant. The culture changes "won't happen overnight," he added. "We need to have some patience," Filkins said.

Sipala described changes that have already occurred in the school lunch program. Ice cream sales have gone from five days a week to one, she said, adding that salads and a yogurt bar have been added to the daily fare.

"They're not going over very well, " Sipala noted.

A discussion on not renewing the school lunch contract with North Kingstown ensued with everyone agreeing that there would be costs associated with establishing an in-house lunch program.

"It's a big undertaking to do it ourselves," Sipala said.

William "Bucky" Brennan, the School Committee's liaison to the North Kingstown school board, said that discussion at those meetings has included that N.K. is losing money on the Jamestown contract.

School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser said she recently attended a lunch at the Lawn school where few hot lunches were sold, but there was a long line at the a la carte offerings.

Kaiser mentioned that she inquired about what was required of a school district in terms of what needs to be provided to students for "hot lunch," and she was informed that if nutritional guidelines are met the lunch does not have to be hot.

"Can't we just offer sandwiches?" Kaiser asked.

The committee discussed asking local caterers and restaurateurs to see if they'd like to bid on a new contract for school lunches.

In other business, the School Committee:

+ Recognized teacher Trish McDevitt for her work in bringing the very popular speaker to the most recent Jamestown Education Day.

+ Approved by consensus, the questions for the Lawn school survey that will ask parents of students in Melrose, Lawn, and at the high school what they think should happen to the Lawn school in light of declining enrollment.

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