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AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — The ending of another school year is right around the corner. For Alabama teachers, this means planning for the famous end-of-the-year classroom parties starts now. Pizza, cupcakes and sugar-filled snacks tend to be the go-to food items for these parties. This year, instead of going the traditional route, why not take a little healthier approach? This is where the Alabama Cooperative Extension System can help.
Through the pilot program Creating Healthy Celebrations, Alabama Extension educators are working with teachers to find ways to reward students with healthier classroom-party options. Creating Healthy Celebrations is designed to give teachers a way to host classroom holidays, birthdays or special events while also introducing healthier foods and fun movement that help students stay healthy, focused and alert during the day.
Creating Healthy Celebrations
The idea for this program was formed in August 2022 by a group of educators with Alabama Extension at Auburn University Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed). These educators include Dominguez Hurry (Bullock and Macon counties), Antionette Hamilton (Mobile County), Desiree Hutcherson-Bates (Jefferson County), Debbie Beverly (Conecuh County) and Cheri Huff (Tuscaloosa County).
In March, educators choose Read Across America Week as a test run to show teachers how they could host a healthy celebration. Educators read the Dr. Seuss classic “Oh, The Things You Can Do that are Good For You!” The book explains the importance of eating right based on the latest USDA MyPlate recommendations and getting enough physical activity. Additionally, educators provided tastings using recipes created by Alabama Extension SNAP-Ed and USDA. Educators also got students out of their seats with several minutes of a themed-based physical activity.
“Far too often do school celebrations center around cookies, pizza and soda,” said Hurry, who conducted programming at D.C. Wolfe Elementary School in Shorter. “We wanted to give teachers examples of fun things they could do with students to have celebrations without loading students up with tons of sugar.”
Hamilton led her celebration at Craighead Elementary School in Mobile. She said the Creating Healthy Celebrations program can be used a model for teachers as an alternative celebration idea.
“Many of these students have already been through our Body Quest curriculum. So creating healthy celebrations around content they’ve already learned can make the lessons come alive,” Hamilton said. “The students tend to be so focused on the party that they don’t realize that they are eating healthy food.”
Lead By Example
The educator-led celebrations were meant to give teachers the idea to host celebrations with healthy choices. The event allowed teachers to witness students enjoying a class celebration even with a healthier treat and physical activity. Hutcherson-Bates, who conducted the program at Barrett Elementary School in Birmingham, said the committee aims to change the mindset of teachers when thinking about celebrations.
“Students and teachers can still have a great time with nutrition and physical activity being present,” she said. “They can have a healthy experience without even knowing it.”
Hutcherson-Bates said the feedback from principals, teachers and counselors has been positive. Once the committee can create a document for schools, this program could easily be replicated. Beverly hosted a celebration at Conecuh County Junior High School. She said teachers already have so much happening, so they need something that’s easy but good for young children.
“We want to give busy teachers everything needed for any celebration at their fingertips,” she said.
Wendy Riley is a third-grade teacher at Conecuh Junior High School. Her classroom was the pilot for the program, and she was helpful in preparing for their celebration.
“Debbie helped us find fun and healthy ways to engage our students during school celebrations,” Riley said. “I’m always looking for ways to give them healthier snacks when we have parties. This program plays right into what I want to do in my classroom.”
Huff hosted a celebration at Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School in Tuscaloosa. She said the celebration was a great opportunity to introduce students to new fruits and vegetables.
“Because the classroom has a fun atmosphere during a party or celebration, it’s possible students may be more relaxed to try different vegetables they normally wouldn’t,” Huff said.
For more information about Alabama Extension at Auburn University SNAP-Ed, visit www.LiveWellAlabama.com or like and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.