I just started my new career as a School Counselor at a Brooklyn high school, so I’m learning new things every day. Not just new things about the way city schools work, but also how the teacher’s teach, the counselor’s counsel and the kids learn, write, interact and EAT. I’ve been dismayed too many times over the last 7 weeks on this job when I hear kids say they are going to McDonald’s (conveniently only a few blocks away! They do this on purpose, I swear: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1568/is_7_37/ai_n15975547) for an after-school snack. Another reality check occurred the second week of school when we had our first fire drill. As I walked up the block (and I use the word “up” lightly – our neighborhood was built of a slightly hilly/sloping area), two of the senior girls complained the entire time. We were not “power walking” up the block, we were not sprinting or running. We were barely even walking! To hear a relatively healthy-looking young woman complain that the 3-minute walk up the block was annoying, making her sweat and tiring, was really, really sad. I couldn’t hold my tongue – I had to tell her that it was important she started doing some exercises if this was tough for her. She was too young to feel this way!
First of all, when I was in school, I would’ve given my right leg to get a moment to go outside and just get out of the classroom. My gym teacher (ok, I went to a Catholic High School, so the strict factor was a bit different than it seems to be in the NYC public schools), a slightly overweight, 55-year old nun with a sharp wit and a LOUD whistle, did not show any mercy during our 45-minute gym class. During school I was exercising, moving my body around, at some point of the day. When I walked into a gym class yesterday what I saw was, again, disheartening. Because space is so limited in NYC schools, often there are as many as 200 students in gym “class” in one period. This is at least the case at the school I work at. What results is major overcrowding and disorganization during the one period they are supposed to be active each day. Also, keep in mind that many city public schools also do not have ‘recess’ due to lack of outdoor space (sad, huh… think about all those poor, hormone-crazed middle schoolers! Now wonder I catch them running around the hallways more than they should!). What I saw was 98% of the girls sitting in their gym clothes (if they even chose to change) against the wall, in groups, chatting. All the boys were running around playing an aggressive game of basketball. It was so bizarre and unfortunate. Something is lacking and I am starting to understand what this youth obesity problem is a major problem. I wonder if the schools are doing enough – and I mean the low-income schools. Another thing to keep in mind is that we do not have space and sometimes money to offer more than two or three organized sports for the students as well. That has a major trickle-effect not only with obesity problems, but also with helping keep these kids off the streets during the hours right after school ends. Most kids get into trouble during the few hours after school is over when they are often unsupervised (b/w 3pm and 6pm).
Finally, the straw that broke the camels back was last week when I took a large group of my seniors on a college tour trip. Because our kids are from low-income backgrounds, they are eligible for free lunch. Out of 40 kids on the trip, about 10 requested a free bagged lunch from the school. When I looked in the bag I had mixed feelings. There were cut apples in a baggie (but were already browning at 8AM, making them look pretty unappetizing), apple juice (decent choice, but sugary!) and for their entree – a sad-looking yellow-cheese sandwich on white bread. I know it is a free lunch, but isn’t there any way to get wheat bread for these kids? And yellow American? I know it’s cheap, but it just looks unhealthy and processed. If a kid is hungry, they are going to eat it even if it’s (ewwwww!) on brown bread! I know this issue has been slowly getting better in schools – soda machines have all been eliminated and the snack which is available is fruit), but there’s still snack machines with chips in it. I can not tell you how many kids choose to eat breakfast on the go and then wait till 3PM to use the $2 their guardian/parent gave them for an after-school snack on their late lunch – fast food. This happens. I’ve witnessed it too many times and it makes me sad.
I did have a breakthrough the other day while I was eating my homemade stuffed cabbage at my desk (post/recipe coming soon!) and two students asked me what that was and then asked for a taste. They like it!! Healthy, ground pork stuffed cabbage rolls! And they wanted the recipe! It helped give me hope again that this world is not just filled with fast-food junkies.
Does anyone else have a story to share on this subject? Am I alone in my feelings? Is this stuff happening in higher-income schools or in the suburbs/private schools? I’m curious, please comment if you can.
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