Lollies or ‘Pizza with the Principal’ as a reward for good behaviour. Class parties full of junk food. Chocolate fundraisers. Does your school contradict healthy eating habits that are taught in the classroom? Do you keep quiet about a nutrition issue for fear of rocking the boat? Other teachers and parents may be silently sharing your thoughts so imagine the difference you could make to your school environment if you worked together.
Advocating for a healthy school environment
Get educated - Arm yourself with up-to-date information from reputable agencies. You might be concerned about some of the items being sold at your canteen, unsure how to raise funds in a healthy way, or have hungry students who struggle to concentrate. The Crunch&Sip team at Cancer Council WA can answer all of your nutrition questions, and the WA School Canteen Association and Foodbank WA are also great sources for reliable nutrition information.
Also, did you know that all Government and Catholic schools in Western Australia are required to follow a healthy food and drink (HFD) ‘traffic light’ policy? The HFD policy includes the canteen, classroom rewards, classroom cooking activities, school camps and excursions. Check out the WA School Canteen Association Inc. website for more information.
Get organised - Identify like-minded parents/teachers/students and gather support to advocate for change in your school. Organise a meeting to look at the issues facing your school and develop some strategies on how to tackle them. Identify the barriers you may encounter and discuss strategies to overcome them. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel, so this is a great opportunity to speak to your principal, deputy, or other long serving member of the school community to see if anyone has broached the subject and advocated change before.
Take action (gently gently approach) – As a general rule people don’t like being told what to do, so talk to your school community and explain the reasons for change. Generate interest and get people on board with your healthy ideas. For example, we all know that fundraising is essential to provide school communities with extra resources and programs so suddenly demanding an end to the lucrative Easter egg raffle may not be well received. Instead, source an alternative healthy fundraising option (e.g. sunscreen sales, hot cross bun sale, lap-a-thon etc.) and approach the P&C/P&F or student council with new suggestions. You could even offer to coordinate the new fundraising drive to take the pressure off those already doing so much.
Be persistent and celebrate wins, even small ones.
Case study example
A few teachers from a WA primary school identified that their students were struggling with concentration and behaviour during the long first session of the school day. They thought this might be because students were coming to school without having breakfast or had eaten breakfast early and were getting hungry. After discussing some ideas they decided that the Crunch&Sip program was a great way to fill the hungry tummies of their students with a healthy snack of vegetables, fruit and water.
Before pitching the idea to the whole team at a staff meeting they discussed the idea with their principal and decided to trial the program in their classrooms first. They individually signed up to become Crunch&Sip classrooms and disseminated information to their students and parents to gather support.
By trialling the program they were able to develop some class rules, iron out any bumps and then reassure other staff members that the program fit into their timetable. Parents embraced the initiative and sent vegie sticks or cut up fruit and the students looked forward to their healthy snack. As a result, behaviour and concentration improved, it provided a great platform for nutrition education and it was an easy sell to the rest of the school to adopt the program.