Thursday, December 18, 2008

Students Behave Better With Healthy Lunches

When a natural foods company made big changes to the school lunchroom at Appleton Central High School in Wisconsin, something radical also seemed to happen among a student body at risk for dropping out.

The soda-filled vending machines at the alternative education high school were replaced with new ones offering only juice, water and energy drinks.

Natural Ovens and Bakery, a local company in Appleton, Wisc., took over the cafeteria and offered fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain breads and entrees free of additives and chemicals, instead of pizza and fries.

Long standard-issue cafeteria tables made way for round tables, creating a more relaxed feel in the lunch room. But the biggest change of all was that discipline statistics plummeted.

"I can say without hesitation that it's changed my job as a principal," said LuAnn Coenen. "Since we've started this program, I have had zero weapons on campus, zero expulsions from the school, zero premature deaths or suicides, zero drugs or alcohol on campus. Those are major statistics."

And in classrooms, teachers suddenly felt like they were getting through.

"Since the introduction of the food program, I have noticed an enormous difference in the behavior of my students in the classroom," said teacher Mary Bruyette. "They're on task, they are attentive. They can concentrate for longer periods of time."

What Lunch Hour?

While teachers couldn't say that junk food and soda had caused the problems that led the students to be sent to the alternative school in the first place, they did say that the improved school lunches ~ first introduced five years ago ~ have made a vast difference in reducing behavior problems.

These aren't statistics that surprise Karen Stout, an associate professor of education at Lehigh University, who has studied more than 2,000 lunchrooms across the United States.

"Atmosphere in the lunchroom carries into the afternoon atmosphere in classrooms," she said.

"So that when it's chaotic and fast and hurried, kids come back to class as wound [up], not relaxed and ready to do meaningful academic work." Dist.# 87324

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