It was at the end of the parent meeting when the principal brought up the idea.
He explained that the administration and teachers had been looking at birthday and holiday celebrations in school. He wanted our feedback, as moms and dads, about what makes sense.
He had been approached by a mother last year who was concerned about the expectations of bringing cupcakes into school for each of her children’s birthdays. She felt the cost was high, and that it even led her family to difficult choices: pay for cupcakes or a better supper that night?
He pointed out that there was no disagreement about celebrating achievements-milestones like birthdays, particularly in elementary school, are what are known as BIG DEALS. The question was how to celebrate. Would it be better, he questioned us, if parents were encouraged to bring in healthier treats? Or if it were a once-a-month party?
What sort of an example are we setting in the school environment?
At this point, honestly, my eyebrows were more than a little raised. In my mind, I was responding with "Really? Are we seriously talking about taking away birthday cupcakes?"
But I do try to be open-minded about the ideas that the administrators bring to the table. So I went out to google for some research of my own.
Statistically, Vermont is quite healthy (and justly proud of this fact, too). According the report "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future", done by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Vermont ranks 46th highest in adult obesity (24 percent) in 2012.
But there are some disturbing trends. In 2011, for children 2-4 years of age in low-income families, 13 percent were ranked as obese. That puts us at state rank 30.
The website is at once both scary and fascinating (http://fasinfat.org/) There is good news:news: "Rates of childhood obesity have remained statistically the same for the past 10 years." And there was bad: news:news:"Rates of obesity among children ages 2 to 19 are still far too high-more than triple what they were in 1980 ... this translates to more than 12 million children and adolescents who are obese-and more than 23 million who are either obese or overweight."
The Vermont officials have not minced words. In 2011, Health Commissioner Harry Chen said, "The fact that Vermont ranks better than most other states is little comfort. This report clearly demonstrates that a concerted public health approach to this epidemic is more important than ever. We must continue to make policy, environmental and cultural changes to make the healthy choice the easiest choice for all Vermonters, in every corner of the state. This report should be read as call to action - immediately."
The parents sitting around the little table in our children’s library on Monday night made one decision on the spot. We could change our prizes for the class that raised the most money in the fund raising. In the past few years, we’d offered them a choice of a type of party. The most popular? An ice-cream party, complete with many types of gooey toppings and decadent candies. A close second was a pizza party.
However, one of the teachers said that her best reward last year was letting her kids ring the classroom bell. There seemed to be some power attached, and the second-grader that had this distinction was very special.
With that in mind, we parents will be working with the staff to find other options-maybe a pajama day or a no-homework night? Or perhaps an extra recess to run off steam?
Right now, the school also has established a tradition of having the class with the best monthly attendance get a cookie party. That, too, is being revisited. What other types of rewards would make more sense to establish as special?
After all, habits are established young, aren’t they?
Seen this way, I guess it’s not really a war on cupcakes.
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools-now at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels! She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council.