Reporting Holly Wagner
ST. PAUL (WCCO) – When it’s your child’s birthday, many parents like to send treats to school to celebrate. A lot of thought goes into this tradition and the other students expect it.
But now, about half of the schools in St. Paul aren’t allowing kids to have sweets on their birthday or for any occasion.
It’s part of a wellness initiative by the district to create a “Sweet-Free Zone.”
The staff at Four Seasons Elementary didn’t try and sugar coat it when they broke the news. They went cold turkey on cupcakes and treats. No more sugar, no more sweets.
“They were not thrilled,” Teacher Ahna Brandvik admitted. “There was a lot of complaining at first.”
Brandvik said cupcakes and birthdays got to be too much.
“We would often times have children that bring snacks or treats twice a week in a class with 25, and sometimes you have two or three birthdays in a week,” she said.
All of that sugar can amount to extra pounds, which is what Principal Dr. Howard Wilson said weighed most in his decision.
“There’s a study where 30 percent of fourth-graders are obese,” he said. “In St. Paul we have 40 percent of fourth-graders in that category, and that’s what concerns us.”
The school provides healthy snacks of fruits and veggies during the day, and students are discouraged from bringing sweets in their lunches.
The students say they didn’t like the dessert ban at first.
“Everybody got mad,” said sixth-grader Maria Aguilar Casales.
After an adjustment period, though, they appear to be adapting. Sixth-grader Olivia Logan said it’s changing how she eats.
“I think it’s helping us become healthier. It’s teaching us better eating habits,” she said.
And those birthdays aren’t forgotten.
“They’re bringing in pencils to share, or the teachers are having special time with them. So we’re still celebrating, just without the extra sugar,” said Brandvik.
Wilson hopes the “Sweet-Free Zone” has an influence on how the students eat at home.
“We can’t do this alone. We have them for six and a half hours a day. We need the help of the wider society. We need the community we serve to help us do this job.”
More and more, students know if they’re going to bring something sweet to school, it had better be sweet moves for the dance floor.