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Sugar in the Classroom

This was posted on the schools forum, but we thought this discussion would appeal to the broader community.  A reader writes:

I am new to the PPS system and would like to hear from parents regarding sugar and media in their school. My family moved here recently and my daughter entered a class where the teacher uses the "candy-reward" system.  I was not familiar with the system as my daughter came from a Waldorf school so we were a bit taken back.  My understanding is that many teachers use treats, specifically to reward and motivate children.  To add more salt to the wound, the teacher also uses movies and many cartoons as a teaching tool.

The last straw happened last week when my daughter came home after watching cartoons and the 3 stooges while doing class work.  She said the kids who finished their work could watch the TV, but the others had to keep their head down and do their work.  She was upset because it was hard to concentrate with the 3 stooges in the background and many of the children laughing.  The teachers response was" well, it's the same as the kids doing homework in front of the TV!  I tried to bring this up at a PTA meeting but was told these types of things are not handled by PTA.  The teacher and the principal are totally unresponsive and from what I understand, this has been addressed by many parents throughout the years at this particular school.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.  I would like to start a campaign to keep sugar out of the classroom, especially for rewards and also to use a movie for educational purposes ONLY!!


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Wow, that sounds awful! My daughter goes to Llewellyn, and they have banned candy and sweets. It's a little excessive, if you ask me - they can't even bring cupcakes on their birthday. I wonder if you could contact someone from Llewellyn to see what steps they took to get the ban?

Also, you say you've heard the principal is uncooperative, but have you tried talking to him/her? I'd try it at least.

no outside treats can be brought in for birthdays etc so far at alameda either. they did get one skittle each for their birthday in the 1st grade which was not a big deal.

it sounds more like a bad teacher problem then a sugar problem honestly.

My daughter is just in preschool so I have no experience, yet, with PPS but I would be very uncomfortable with that situation -- especially that kind of use of TV in the classroom. It seems to set up a belief system that working FAST makes you more deserving of "reward". (Just writing that sentence gives me a stomach ache).

And to put kids in a situation where they are supposed to think and concentrate on school work while other kids watch TV? That's clearly a "treat others as you would like to be treated" deal. Even as an adult I'd find that situation extremely difficult.

Perhaps the teacher is trying to cope with a classroom that is unbalanced -- kids finishing their work quickly can cause disruptions I guess, but it seems like a quiet craft table, coloring, collage making, reading, puzzles....could all be used to keep kids occupied.

Maybe meet with the teacher and principal to find out the reasons behind why the teacher is using these "tools" in the classroom. Maybe get to the root of the need and then come up with different solutions....

Good Luck!

This has also been a problem at our school, where sweets are doled out regularly by teachers and the PTA. Plus it's usually gummy bears, starburst, or other sticky candies that sit on their teeth all day. With a kid that has been dealt a cruddy set of teeth and has had more than his fair share of fillings and caps and tooth pullings, I find this candy reward system appalling. We live in a very ethnically and economically diverse district where many, many children are already obviously dealing with tooth decay and obesity issues. I think it's terrible for our schools to feed our kids any junk food or show them cartoons during class. School should be the place to set a great example for healthy eating AND study habits.
I did speak with my son's teacher one year about the candy treats, and she was kind enough to give alternate treats to the class after that. All I could really do was explain healthy choices to my kid, and keep a toothbrush and toothpaste in his back pack. That way he could brush his teeth afterwards, if he made the decision to eat candy at school. He usually just brought it home and put it in his "stash" though.
I should mention that I don't ban candy at home, but I don't have an open policy candy drawer either(like I grew up with).

If you've spoken with the principal and he/she is unresponsive, I would go to the school board. That's ridiculous! In our district, any media viewing has to be tied to the curriculum and any time a candy is given (discouraged), a healthy option also has to be presented.

As a PPS teacher, I can tell you that PPS has a "wellness policy" that states when any teacher/PTA/parent provides sweets for a treat or birthday there must also be a healthy alternative provided for students. This isn't always particulary helpful because few students are going to choose fruit over a cupcake, but it is a policy that you could discuss with the principal. I'm not sure off the top of my head, but I seem to recall that the use of movies as a reward is also not permitted. I'll look into that one and post again. I agree, this is an issue with the specific teacher rather than the district as a whole.

My sons go to Vestal, which is a PPS school. We just moved here one year ago and my son's wonderful Teacher last year always encouraged healthy eating. I used to sit with the class at breakfast every am and I remember once one of the students was doling candy from her backpack to everybody at the table. When the Teacher walked up she very diplomatically asked the young lady to put the candy back in her backpack to take home after school. Then she went on to ask every child who took a piece of candy to return to her.

I also know that my son's Kindergarten Teacher told me they are going to have a Nutritionist visit the class this year and talk about healthy eating and they are going to learn how to prepare healthy snacks. I do wish however that the breakfasts at school were healthier, fruit, yogurt, cheese, non-sugar cereals, instead of the greasy, fatty food. I know it's probably way too expensive.

I would definitely talk to the district. That is ridiculous. WHEN I give rewards in my classroom, they are always school-related (a cute pencil, or the like) and never food or TV. All media is supposed to be related to the curriculum and she should NOT be watching 3 stooges in the classroom! I could go on and on, but that is NOT PPS policy...

Uh, yeah. That would be pretty tough for me to take. I'm not usually up for public name-naming, but if you're inclined to share the name of the school at all, I'm sure others would be very interested in knowing if this is happening in their school where maybe they could add some voice to yours.

That said, we just got our Kindergarten info today that says birthday treats are okay but to really examine the sugar level in them before bringing. That seems like a good middle of the road approach, at least in theory. We'll see how that actually turns out. I'd hate to see a full ban on treats for birthdays, as that really does seem what treats are made for, special occasions. It seems like a tough line for a school to draw because you get into issues of how much sugar is too much and the answer to that varies for so many people. Candy is obviously full-on sugar, but is one piece a big deal? Are granola bars considered sugar? I'm not advocating candy as rewards, just being very mindful of the slippery slope of personal values, a large system, and teaching balance versus ban. It's a tough one. If only the schools could be all the way I want them!!!

Talk to your site council, and then to the district. Both the TV and the sweets are against the PPS district policy. You can find the policies on the district website. Television watching is expressly for curriculum ONLY, not rewards, and sweets/candy is not to be given as rewards either (that's in the health and wellness policy; the exception is for celebrations like birthdays, etc.).

Believe me. We went through both issues at our PPS school. Kids were watching TV for "recess" when it was raining outside. A parent got fed up with the song and dance from the principal and finally reported it to the district. No more TV.

I thought I heard it all, but the 3 Stooges???????

Also, the "not a PTA issue" -- it most certainly is depending on the leadership quality of your PTA. Our PTA gives teachers a certain amount of money each quarter to spend on rewards, like stickers and pencils, etc.

Wow! We just started at PPS and now I'm wondering if this is going to be happening at our school? Not ok. For one thing our child responds very poorly to sugar and to food dyes and no mindful teacher would do that to him/herself! I will ask at our school what their policy is when I go pick her up today.

first, i echo what other posters have said about moving your complaint up the ladder. that teacher has clearly gone off the deep end. school districts are nothing if not heavy on administrators who want to look good, so work that to your advantage.
as i'm not a "baby out with the bathwater" kinda gal, though, i'm not for a blanket ban of sweets. i think that turns them into forbidden fruit (as was the case in my house growing up) and really sucks some of the fun out of life. plus, i'd argue that cupcakes from new seasons have a higher nutritional value than some of the crap that gets churned out of the cafeteria and is served as "lunch." i like sweets for special occasions, and in my work in the schools i have set up long-term reward systems (4-6 months in duration) where groups are given the opportunity to work toward ice cream or pizza. its a currency that kids understand and, if not overused, is very motivating. i always get parent consent first and always offer a non-food reward as well, but rare is the student who doesn't want ice cream. can't say i blame 'em.
good luck to the OP and i hope you keep us updated as to the response from PPS admin.

We started off at a regular PPS school, and now we are Waldorf...HUGE difference. Add up all the sugar consumed AT school in a school year and it's astounding! A little rain kept the kids indoors for coloring or a movie in the gym instead of athletic movement. So kids are going crazy, get diagnosed as ADHD, and the teachers all seem to be exhausted. Is this any surprise? How is this not obvious to PPS? And they are so upset about losing kids to alternative schooling. I think they need to wake up and smell the high fructose corn syrup.

I just asked the Q on PPS' Facebook page, so maybe they'll weigh in here or there. Their page is here: http://bit.ly/14GlQ8. Last year our K-garten teachers used candy on the bus when returning from field trips - presumably to shut them up. For those who know me, it comes as no surprise that I almost blew a gasket. I think candy and TV/movies s/require parental approval. Overprotective? Perhaps, but then candy and too much video in school is underprotective, IMO.

Field trips? Your kid got to go on field trips? sorry for hijacking the thread . . .

This could have been me writing, nearly word for word, about my daughter's experience in the third grade at our neighborhood school last year. We met with the teacher and/or principal six times throughout the year to discuss the candy and movie issues. My husband and I ended up filing a grievance against the school for violating PPS policy and state law. That's what if finally took to convince them that the candy/junk food issue needed to be addressed....not because it's really crappy pedagogy (reward system) and doesn't send a healthy message to kids.

As for the movies, my daughter and another child made a list of the 65 (!!!!) videos they watched in class last year. A -F!@#$%-palling. They were also told to either turn around/not watch or sit in the hallway. The principal clearly didn't think it was a problem because, despite several families pulling their kids out during movie times, he allowed it to continue.

We are waiting to hear about a hardship transfer to another school based on some of these experiences.

We are in a Title I school...I'm interested to hear if this may be a phenomenon related to the socio-economic climate of specific schools?

First go the principal then to the district if that does not work. The movies are against district policy.

As some of you have noted, it's one thing to have a policy and another to have it followed to the letter in every one of our thousands of classrooms!

For the record, here is the administrative directive on wellness, nutrition and physical activity:

Does every teacher and principal follow it to the letter? Well, there are exceptions. (One teacher at one of my kids' schools is known for having candy on hand. . . .)

Videos should be educational and in line with the subject taught (or else a rare treat). Likewise, there are exceptions.

Any time you think either sweets or movies are out of hand, first talk to the teacher. If that doesn't resolve it, move up the ladder; principals and assistant principals should know what's going on in the classrooms. Document your experiences. A log of videos watched can help the principal understand the situation and talk with the teacher. And if you can't resolve it at the school level, then you might contact the deputy superintendent.

This organization chart has all of their names and contact info, along with the schools they supervise.

Does that help?

Thanks, Lisa, for drawing this conversation to my attention via Facebook.

And all of you, please become PPS "fans" on Facebook for our regular updates! http://tinyurl.com/pr9b69

Sarah Carlin Ames
PPS Public Affairs

The problem with the wellness directive is the big underlined bold print "To the extent possible" clause that basically allows building principals to completely disregard it.

If you read the directive NONE of those things are happening in school. PE twice a week? Food not to be used as a reward? Withholding recess as punishment not allowed? No selling of candy for fundraisers? I know the school my child goes to was in violations of all these policies last year.

Oh and on the movie thing: it is not only wrong, it is illegal, unless the school public Public Performance Site License.

It is a FEDERAL MANDATE that schools ban foods high in sugar due to our massive national obesity problem. Any teacher doling out candy to students is essentially breaking the law. And, maybe I'm sucking the fun out of life here, but let's be consistent. We can celebrate birthdays with sugar at home and acknowledge them at school in other ways. What's wrong with singing and balloons? Go home and have cake. A class of 30 students could equate to 2 dozen days of cupcakes during the school year. That's not a special occasion, but a sugar problem, distraction and headache for a teacher or a parent of a kid with food allergies/issues.

I can't even address the movie issue--it's so unbelievable. Absolutely take it to the top if you have to. No one can justify the use of movies/videos in school EVER.

I have to second the comments of "w". My children are at a Waldorf charter, and one of main reasons we didn't consider our neighborhood school or a PPS magnet were the many, many related incidents from parents across the PPS district regarding candy, media, inappropriate rewards, etc.

From the range of people I've heard from, these incidents take place across the district and don't seem to be just in Title 1 schools. I have heard of a teacher showing "Hotel Rwanda" to a middle school class at a popular magnet school without parental consent, and I have listened to numerous stories of movies for recess and candy for rewards at schools in wealthy parts of town.

Candy and media aren't the only reasons we chose to go with Waldorf, we also love the entire philosophy. However, the many negative stories and the kind of philosophy they seem to represent turned us off of PPS.

If PPS is concerned about losing students, they need to take these kind of complaints seriously.

i fully understand not wanting sugar and movies in the classroom. although i don't mind small amounts for my own child, i'm fortunate she's not allergic. i don't want her to have a small amount of sugar at the expense of harming her classmates.

what i don't understand is griping about it vs. doing what Sarah Carlin Ames suggested - looking at the org. chart and talking with people who make changes.

it's not "us" vs. "them". as the parents of children in a publicly funded school, "we" are "them". we comprise the pta, it is our feedback that shapes policy and new directions. being adversarial gets you a fight, and shows our kids how to gripe. getting in there ourselves and shaping our schools gets us the change we need and shows our children how to be agents of change.

I don't see what is going on here as griping. I see it as parents sharing stories to do just what you suggest: organize and get in there ourselves and shape our schools to create change. If you'll look at the original post, she tried to go to the PTA as you suggest but it was unhelpful.

I have heard many similar stories about parents going to their administration and being dismissed. It can be a demoralizing process. Parents can be (rightly or wrongly) concerned that if they go up the chain of command, somehow it will backfire and their children will get the consequences.

I appreciate Carlin Ames response, but personally would have a lot more confidence if she would have clearly said what is described in the woman's original post, if accurate, is clearly against district policy.

Have you spoken with other class parents about this? There is strength in numbers -- when our principal get one compliant it is easy to ignore but when he gets multiple comments and *letters* that are copied to his direct supervisor (the Deputy Superintendent for the cluster) he takes it seriously. You could also join the school's Site Council (if you have time) and get a healthy school statement added to the school plan.

On the plus side, the problem you're dealing with is not one for all PPS schools. We haven't had any problems with candy or media -- my daughter comes home and tells Daddy that he shouldn't be drinking his (one-a-week natural) soda (water or milk) and that we should only watch 1/2 an hour of TV a day, if we MUST watch at all (with an eyeroll for good measure). Her teacher last year encouraged a healthy snack with protein for birthday celebrations (if it must be sweet, make it small, she requested).

the original post was APPALLING. Why why why would a teacher think it appropriate to give a child ANYTHING to eat without parental consent? And movies? If kids are in school to learn they don't need movies. Incompetant teacher, principal and lackluster PTA. I'm sorry if the teacher feels overwhelmed, but these are our children, buck up! I would make a formal complaint as high up as you can get, call thr news and pull your kid out of the school. And who's dignity are you trying to save? What school is this happening at?

Wow. All I can say is, this sort of thing does NOT happen at our neighborhood school. No candy, no movies. There's always fresh fruit at lunch (not wrapped up) and parents are discouraged from sending candy to school with their kids. I agree with everyone else - document and take this to the district level.

You might pass on the webcast of Alfie Kohns, "Teaching Children to Care" which was a keynote speech given to a group of public school teachers on the consequences of using rewards in the classroom. Here's the link. http://www.workingtv.com/alfiekohn-cta.html

the teacher might not be receptive, but maybe the principal will be.

Take heart: This is not indicative of all PPS schools. We attend our neighborhood (Title I) school, and this would not be acceptable.

As a teacher and a parent, the movies and candy are totally outrageous! I have worked in several PPS schools, as a volunteer coordinator and student teacher. During my years in PPS, I saw the cartoons shown at two different schools in two different classrooms - Woodmere and Buckman to name names. This was over 5 years ago, and I was outraged then but didn't know who to complain to but my cohort at PSU. I now teach in a neighboring suburban district. I have NEVER seen that kind of behavior, TV or excessive candy, in the district I work in now. I'm sure most teachers in PPS don't use TV and candy, and it probably is a teacher issue, not a whole district issue. I encourage you to keep pressing the issue here with the principal. Candy and TV are totally unacceptable and completely embarrassing to the teaching profession!

As a non-parent, non-teacher, who isn't nearly as crunchy as most of the people on this blog, the TV situation seems nuts. School is for learning. If the teacher is helping some of the kids watch TV at the expense of the other kids education that seems very backwards.

I have a lot of friends that teach in PPS that are great teachers, and I too am a teacher. I too think the TV is inappropriate but have you offered suggestions or asked why the teachers are using the candy and the TV. From a non-judgmental prospective have you asked for more information or offered alternatives/ or offered to volunteer in your child's class to find out some of the reason's why they might be using candy and other reinforcers that you may not agree with. I feel that your concerns are valid but have you spent some time with the teacher and looked at it from a community prospective.

It is far to easy to vilify your child's teacher than to look at reasons why they may have gotten to the place they are at. The class sizes are huge, the english language learner populations have grown, the number of children with special needs included has grown, but what hasn't grown is the support from families or the district. I work with children with special needs and sometimes with children with special needs i.e. autism we use reinforcers to motivate them to complete assignments/ activities and to participate with the group. For some children with special needs they will not participate unless motivated by extrinsic motivation but that doesn't mean candy and TV are the only motivators. In my classroom we use some food, but mostly toys, music and activities that they like we don't use candy but occasionally we use fruit snacks when nothing else works. Just for a moment stop and think about the needs of all the children in your child's class and think about what you would do, most "regular ed" teachers don't have enough knowledge or training for the diverse needs of their classes. Before you judge them maybe it might be better to ask yourselves what you can do to help change it because the needs keep growing, the benchmarks are still there, and there is only so much one teacher can do. It's easy to pull your kid's out but it isn't going to fix the problem. Teachers ask their respective supervisors for help all the time but you the parents have more power to affect change than any one teacher. Your teacher will probably welcome the support and assistance you offer for the majority of them. Most teachers burn out in the first couple of years believe me they could use any help you offer.

Thanks to all for the wonderful support. As a newbie to Portland as well as the PPS system, I had no idea what to expect. I was one of a few families who tried to rally against the candy & media in the classroom. Frustration & anger mounted daily and I finally gave up fighting the Principal and the teacher. On the last day of school, I told the principal & the teacher how utterly disappointed I was and I would not be returning to which the principal responded " Well public school is not for everyone". I did hear through another parent that the school is no longer using candy as a reward system but the movies are still part of the daily curriculum.

We have since moved on and my daughter is enjoying a waldorf school.

fruit snacks = candy
sugar is sugar is sugar

I haven't had any candy or movie issues on my Sw side of town, not in the elementary or middle school here.

I have had movies I didn't care for being shown at the high school level. But, my dd is 15 now. And I usually find out about the movie after they've shown it.

I did fight the candy fight back in Atlanta when my kids were little. Southerners love their sweets. Most teachers did switch to a sticker reward after I spoke with them about my concerns. One of my kids is cavity prone, a note from the dentist went a long way in persuading the teacher and the principals that candy was no longer an option.

Waldorf was never in the picture for us. That is a lifestyle unto itself and I'm not buying it.

philomom - is it really necessary to take a swipe at Waldorf or any educational philosophy as you add your two cents to the post?

The original post was about candy and media in the classroom not about who does and doesn't agree with Waldorf. Although there are a number of Waldorf voices in this discussion, I know plenty of parents who chose other charter schools or alternatives like MLC to specifically avoid the problems discussed on this post.

Although education choices can certainly get folks fired up, let's stick to the basic tenets of Urbanmamas and write with consideration for others.

How is expressing an opinion such as philomom did being inconsiderate of others? It's her own opinion! Since other people brought up Waldorf, why wouldn't she be free to comment on that? Just as you were able to render your opinion, let's "let" others do the same.

Well, if you say you're not "buying it," you're suggesting that people who like Waldorf are "buying it." Generally, that expression is used to say that you're not gullible enough to get sucked into some kind of lie. So I can see how that's offensive to people who support Waldorf education.

I am horrified.

@n, I'm sorry, but a teacher has got to be completely burned out to the point of losing all rational thought if s/he's showing The 3 Stooges in aclassroom. At the most basic level, TV as babysitter is a horrible solution. What about caring about the kids who are trying to LEARN in the midst of the noise and distraction? And if this teacher has gotten to such a point of desperation that TV seems to be the only way out ... The 3 Stooges??? There are a zillion other educational or semi-educational options out there.

I am so sorry for the parent who experienced this, and it makes me think even more about avoiding PPS altogether two years from now.

Please don't write off all of PPS over one bad apple. I'm sure all school districts have there share of looser teachers. PPS has some awesome teachers. The particular teacher;s actions are clearly against district policy.

Our focus should not be on throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but rather on pushing the administrators to get with the program and follow there own rules.

Don't get me wrong PPS has some serious problems(lack of central control, building principals with too much autonomy, messed up transfer policy and total lack of equity in program offerings and "specials"), but I don't think sugar and media, are at the level of district problem.

I know first hand how frustrating it can be to try to gain traction with administrators, but this particular case seems too cut and dried to be ignored if you just keep moving up the food chain.

We left the neighborhood public school (for a pricey, yet fantastic private school) after seeing the low quality of the educational experience, including candy rewards and math manipulatives (ok sometimes, but not always!),disney movies during rainy recesses and a general "worksheets" not inquiry approach. If you ask me, PPS is in a crisis, and needs exceptional leadership to pull it out- and this was at one of the "better" schools- Duniway!

Math manipulatives? What are they? Why are they bad?

Math manipulatives are things like counting bears, linker cubes, decks of cards, dice, compass, protractor, rulers, string, etc. Can't imagine why they'd be bad unless they were super manipulative and trying to get you to let them stay out past curfew or something.

maybe the math manipulatives were tricking the mom into buying candy. Then we have a problem. :) From sugar to math manipulatives...really? How did we get here. Aren't math manipulatives used to help the child visualize the math problem. You have a problem with this? Wow.

Sugar in the classroom....no, maybe rarely.
Movies in the classroom....only when somehow educational or as an end of the year reward or something and they must be approved by all parents.

Maybe candies were being used as math manipulatives?

Maybe the candies were being used as math manipulatives?

That's what I thought when I read it, Sheryl. I have seen teachers use M&Ms as "counters".

Yes, candy was used as math manipulatives. My daughter came home one day with candy stuffed in her pockets after she had already eaten 187 pieces of skittles!! Once again the teacher and the Principal thought I was over-reacting to the methodology!

Yep, when I was a first grade teacher one of my (and my student's) favorite math lessons was Skittles Math. It was NOT the norm for math lessons, it was a fun EXCEPTION.
Each child got a package, they sorted them by color, did comparisons of more/less/equal, created a bar graph. There was a LOT of learning, and the motiation level was always awesome. Is that really so bad for your child? I really question how your child would have eaten 187 pieces.

Yeah, it really is that bad. Skittles in particular. The dyes, the sugar, the whole thing. I know several kids with corn allergies so they would have been left out of this activity as they can't eat foods with corn syrup. I would just rather my child didn't eat a whole pack of skittles in general. I can see your thought being that it is just a fun treat, but I guess I would encourage some other way of counting. Take a walk around school and collect rocks, paint them, and then sort by color. Bring in a big jar of buttons and sort by color. Food just triggers so many alarm bells for folks, and when it seems just as easy to skip it, I would rather it be skipped.

I disagree, it really isn't that bad.

I guess there always has to be a parent or two that has to make an issue of things.

My daughter came home with over a pound of candy from a "Food Math" day. Over. a. pound. When it was scheduled to happen next (two weeks later!), I offered the teacher individually packaged pretzels as an alternative and was soundly turned down. I'm sure the motivation level wasn't as high with something not containing massive quantities of sugar.

I agree with mom22...there are so many other things to quantify, categorize, and compare.

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