Can a simple strawberry be a catalyst for change?
This week, as our students take the California Standards Test, I want to once again thank our dedicated employees for all you do to put children first. These tests are a crucial component in the federal and state accountability models by which we are judged as a district. Test scores are used to track student achievement, and therefore are vital to assessing our services. But we cannot forget that the tests are just one measurement of our work with children. We should also be assessing ourselves on our much larger goal: To take a holistic approach to education.
Which brings me to the strawberry.
Starting May 10, our nutrition services staff will begin giving fresh, locally grown strawberries to elementary school children at lunch, courtesy of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. While that may seem minor, it represents an important step toward thinking about children in terms of serving their needs on many fronts so they can grow as learners.
Research shows that healthy kids perform better academically. Eating nutritious food is essential to staying healthy, one reason we are excited to offer our children – especially those who rely on our lunch program every day — fresh strawberries. In addition, the district has launched a Healthy Food Task Force, co-chaired by Board of Education member Patrick Kennedy, my wife, Julie Raymond as parent liaison, and George Washington Carver High School Principal Allegra Alessandri, to find creative ways we can provide healthier, locally produced food for the children in our district. The district has an obligation to teach our children about food, nutrition and the environment. It’s the right thing to do as we work to put kids on a college- and careerbound trajectory, which is one of the foundational pillars of our overall approach to educating our kids. If eating better helps them learn, we must improve the meals they get from us.
Exercise can also improve a child’s academic performance, as well as teach life-long lessons about self-discipline and perseverance. Competitive sports, too, give children a sense of identity and purpose. Sometimes, being on a team is the hook that keeps an otherwise wayward teen in school. Perhaps most importantly in these times of financial crisis is this: Healthy kids spend fewer days at home sick. At a time when every dollar counts, improving the health of our students will impact the bottom line.
With that in mind, I am proud that our district is one of only seven in California to win the 2010 Governor’s Fitness Challenge, a contest among the state’s K-12 schools that encourages students, parents and staff to get active, healthy and fit. Participants register with the program then record their “active days” – days spent exercising for at least 30minutes – on a spreadsheet. As the weather warms, now is the perfect time to begin or step up a regimen of regular exercise. I urge every employee to be a health-conscious role model for our children by staying fit and healthy. In our district, 40,402 students are signed up for the Governor’s Fitness Challenge. Each school has a designated Fitness Challenge coordinator who works with students to help them keep track of their activity levels. These timesheets and calendars are being filled out now and will be turned into the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports at the end of May. By winning this competition, we will receive a Live Positively Fitness Center with a retail value of more than $100,000. The school to receive this fitness center will be announced later in the year.
No matter which campus gets the equipment, everyone inspired by this program to exercise more regularly wins the gift of health and soaring self-esteem. Can a strawberry change the way we do business? Maybe not. But seeing each child as a whole human being – not just a mind for testing – will get us closer to the transformation we seek.
Jonathan P. Raymond