With any change — no matter how small — comes challenge, however.
Under pressure to meet increasingly demanding federal and state academic benchmarks, many schools have cut back on formal physical education classes. While the National Association for Sports and Physical Education recommends schools provide 150 minutes a week of instruction, most schools are only able to squeeze in 30 minutes. Similarly, teachers report, using non-food rewards like computer time or extra recess time detracts from academic study. Treats are easier and — for cash-strapped teachers — cheaper.
"Our kids are so focused on math and reading … that they're missing out on something of equal value," Jones said. "Whether it's running, dancing or some kinds of sport, we should be instilling in our children a lifelong love for physical activity."
Schools also struggle to find a balance between what's healthy and what children like. While class parties at Arcadia Elementary always include a veggie platter (per Gold Medal Schools recommendations), students invariably choose to eat doughnuts instead, Roylance said.
"I wish it was more motivating to students to say, 'If you're good, you'll get an apple,' " she said. "But it just doesn't work that way."
Still, Roylance isn't giving up.
She announced plans last month (to the chagrin of her students) to do away with the traditional 30 minute lunch break, which children split between eating and play as they saw fit. Instead, students are given 15 minutes to play and 15 minutes to eat.
"They're grumbling," she said. "It's cutting into their kickball time."
But, Roylance said, she's already noticing a change in student food choices. Instead of wolfing down three bites of pizza on the way to the playground, students are taking time to look over the fruits and vegetables on the school's "nutrition bar."
"We've got a long way to go yet," she said. "But hopefully, we're establishing patterns that will lead to healthier lifestyles for these kids."
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