An Elementary School in North Carolina Rethinks Student Rules on Food and Drink

No gum. No food. No candy. No drinks. It’s easy to understand why elementary school students are asked to follow classroom rules. Teachers are too busy to spend time scraping gum off the floors and the underside of desks and mopping up spills made by their students. Perhaps it is far easier to simply forbid all food and drinks from the classroom. However the teachers and parents at the school where I serve as principal recently decided to rethink some of their rules nor the benefit of the students.

Why? Think about it this way. Let’s say a child eats dinner at home at 6:00pm on most evenings. The child goes to bed around 8:30pm and awakens early enough to get on the school bus at 6:30am. At this early hour there may not be time for breakfast. School lunch is served at 12 noon during the school day. That is a whopping 18 hours without food, an unreasonable amount of time for a tiny growing body.

Similarly, students may never have the opportunity to drink fresh water. Dehydration can cause students to become sluggish and tired. Drinking water helps curb the appetite and flush out toxins in the body.

What did our school do about this conundrum? For starters, our district approved free breakfast for all students. Already about 75% of our students were receiving free or reduced meals from a federal government program, so allowing the remainder of the students to have breakfast at no charge wasn’t a huge burden for the district.

We take upon ourselves at the school to encourage students to eat breakfast at the school. Our cafeteria staff works to make sure the morning line moves fast and the food is tasty. Often the kids eat a fortified cereal bar, a fruit, and a milk. Our bus drivers and teacher assistants make sure the students move from the school bus to the cafeteria first thing in the mornings. Our teachers allow car students to bring their cafeteria meal into the classroom if they don’t have time to finish their meals prior to the sound of the tardy bell. I occasionally check our numbers with the cafeteria manager to see how many students are getting breakfast, and I send out reminders to parents that it is important for students to have a nutritious breakfast each morning.

Furthermore, we encourage students to keep water bottles with them in class. We ask that the bottles be clear so that we can ensure that they are indeed drinking water and that the container have a lid. Teachers often prefer that the water bottles are made with a sports top, in which a stopper can be opened or closed easily.

The results so far appear to be very positive. It seems to me that student behavior is better and that teachers are able to get a lot of work out of their students. Students able to focus on their studies instead of their stomachs. Students continue to bring their water bottles. At least one student reportedly asks for water at home instead of sodas.

Just is week I got a call from the local fire department. They had heard about our new initiative and offered to provide all of the students with fire-safety themed water bottles. It is great to know that the community is getting on board with what we at the school feel is an important way to educate our students from head to toe.