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To Have or Not to Have (Dessert)

“I’m hungry. I hope there’s pudding.”
– Luna Lovegood

Earlier this week, I received a letter from Liana, a 2nd grade student at AAS. It was a well written opinion letter with proper form. The letter had a good introduction, three solid arguments supporting her opinion, and a clear conclusion. As expressed in her letter, Liana believes that grade 2 and 3 students should have dessert as an option at lunch. The letter was co-signed by 43 other students and 8 staff members.

Currently, Kindergarten through grade 3 do not have a dessert option at lunch, unless they bring it from home. Students in grades 4 and 5 have the dessert option twice a week. Once students hit middle school, they can get dessert every day.

Personally, I am not a big fan of dessert. That said, there is a gelato shop in Rome that has a pistachio gelato and a vanilla gelato that I cannot say no to–my sugary Achilles heel. Sometimes I get lighthearted criticism because my favorite gelato is vanilla. I like to think that it is my favorite because my palate is so sophisticated that I relish the subtleties of a fine vanilla frozen confection. In reality, it likely means that I am boring.

At least once a week for the past 9 years, a 2nd or 3rd grade student has asked why they don’t have dessert as an option. (Liana has many times been the asker.) As adults, we make many choices for children. As they grow, we gradually release control of their decisions to them. We do this because children have to learn how to make healthy choices by our modeling and teaching. Yet, it is not always clear when a child is old enough to make their own decisions on different topics. However, the only way children can make healthy choices is to have choices.

When I think about it, I cannot come up with a good argument for why grades 2 and 3 students should not have dessert as an option sometimes. To be certain, the School has a responsibility to help students make healthy eating choices. However, it must be noted that if students eat three meals a day each day of the year, only 16% of their annual meals are at school. For grades 4 and 5, if they can choose dessert at school twice a week, that equals having a dessert choice with 6% of their annual meals. In Liana’s letter, she advocates for providing 2nd and 3rd graders with a dessert option once a week, which is 3% of their annual meals.

Statistically speaking, allowing students the option of dessert one day a week is not going to affect their eating habits negatively. In fact, the argument could be made that it could help them be responsible–as Liana states in her letter.

Without any real concrete evidence to support the no dessert option, it feels like one of those parenting decisions when the child asks, “Why”, and the only answer we have is, “Because I said so.”

There is another good reason to allow a weekly dessert: student agency. Student agency refers to the notion that students learn best through activities that are meaningful to them; that they have a voice that is heard and listened to. Such learning activities do not have to be intentional lessons at school. They can be anytime a student addresses something that matters to them and learns from it. Through such experiences, students can learn that they can make positive changes to the world around them: they truly do have the power to make the world better (or at least more sugary).

In this case, a grade 2 student has taken the initiative to address something that matters to her and at least 43 schoolmates, and she has done so in the perfectly appropriate way. She even proposed a compromise of dessert one day a week. Well done Liana.

Given Liana’s approach to the issue, and the fact that dessert one day a week does not equal unhealthy choices, the grade 2s and 3s will have dessert as a lunch option each Thursday for the remainder of the school year. We will then reassess, and as Liana wrote, see how responsible they are before we make a decision for next year.

FYI to other students: this does not mean that you will get it if you write a nice letter asking for all day recess.

Grade 2 and 3 students: Dobar appetit!

PS You can always check your child’s cafeteria choices through the Liberty Food Services website.

“Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”
– Gail Devers

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