Last week we discussed the problem with most school lunch programs across the nation: The lack of nutritional value in these menu options is directly related to issues with intellectual development, concentration and learning and academic performance.
On the other hand, providing students with fresh, healthy and nutritional options can have an outstanding impact on behavior and success, as one school district in Wisconsin has demonstrated for more than 20 years.
The Appleton Way
The Appleton Central Alternative Charter High School in Appleton, Wisconsin, is an ideal example of how a nutritional lunch program can and should work. According to the report Better Food, Better Behavior, a case study on the school's nutrition program, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the school opened in the late 1990s and despite creating a different environment for those who struggled in traditional classrooms, behavioral problems continued.
The school soon implemented a physical education program and not long after, began providing students with nutritious breakfasts, free of charge. The next year, ACA partnered with local Natural Ovens Bakery, which would take over kitchen and dining services for the next several years to provide students with wholesome, nutritious options for both breakfast and lunch.
As Tree Hugger reported, removing vending machines filled with chips, candy and soda and implementing a nutritious, fresh food program resulted in reduced litter and vandalism in the hallways and improved focus on learning and assignments. Moreover, policing was no longer required in the hallways and students were generally calm and orderly – compared to the past displays of rowdiness. As the school district reported:
"Researchers know that chronically undernourished children must use their energy for tasks in order of importance: first for maintenance of critical organ functions, second for growth, and last for social interaction and overall cognitive functioning."
According to a report from the Feingold Association of the United States, ACA Principal LuAnn Coenen also noted that the rate of drugs, expulsions, suicides, drop outs and weapons have all dropped to nearly zero since the implementation of healthy alternatives.
Last week we mentioned how funding for fresh foods remains the biggest hurdle across the country. In the case of the Appleton School District, they were fortunate to receive funding from Natural Ovens Bakery for five years, through the 2002 to 2003 school year. In the minds of those behind this initiative, the cost was worth it. After that, that ARAMARK Corporation acquired management of the school's entire lunch program.
As Natural Ovens President, Dr. Barbara Reed Stitt, said, "One child arrested would cost the schools more," according to the Feingold report.
"Nutrition for students should be part of the general operating budget," said Appleton teacher Mary Bruyette. "We're concerned about everything else. We're concerned about new band uniforms. We're concerned about the football team. We're concerned about text books. Why not be concerned about nutrition? That seems to me the basis in many cases for creating a positive learning environment."
Thanks to the success of the program, middle and elementary schools within the Appleton School District are adopting a similar approach. While this is not the only school district in the nation investing in its students, it's far from enough.