Authored by Ashley Edmondson, Let’s Go! Cumberland County Coordinator
Public Health Program The Opportunity Alliance
Let’s Go! Cumberland County Applauds Gorham School District to Celebrate with Physical Activity!
At Village, Narragansett, and Great Falls Elementary School in Gorham, Maine you will find kids smiling, laughing, and having fun at classroom celebrations – using activities that don’t involve food! During the spring of 2013, Let’s Go! Champion, Frank DeFrancesco, led the initiative with his wellness team to promote physical activity and provide child friendly, non-food items during classroom celebrations for all K-5 schools. This movement began when the Great Falls wellness team saw how important it was for school staff and students to increase opportunities for physical activity and promote healthy nutrition throughout the school day.
Frank’s local Let’s Go! Coordinator, Ashley Edmondson, connected him with Paula Harris, the former Let’s Go! Champion at Pond Cove, whose school has been successfully providing fun, non-food celebrations for over 10 years. Paula provided Frank’s team with resources to successfully implement the new practice and educate staff and parents on the benefits of these improved celebrations. Great Falls wellness team also reached out to Windham Raymond School District, whom recently revised their wellness policy to include fun, non-food celebrations. With the help of these schools, Frank created a researched-based presentation on the impact of unhealthy behaviors and the importance of supporting healthier behaviors through by introducing non-food celebrations. The presentation provided a number of reasons why a change in practice is critical for children’s health AND academic success.
Benefits of non-food celebrations include:
• Provides a fun way to celebrate special events and successes.
• Provides options that are beneficial to a child’s health, development and education.
• Provides a supportive environment for healthy eating that doesn’t challenge a parent’s decision to ensure their child eats healthy during the school day.
• Reduces the potential for children’s exposure to foodborne illness.
• Considers the needs of all students, helping to limit potential harm due to special dietary needs or food allergies.
• Supports health education curriculum.
Gorham’s three elementary school’s new practice to provide non-food celebrations was supported by the school administration last April and has taken effect during this school year. An informational letter was sent home to parents announcing the new practice, with a majority of parents responding positively:
“For my family the no foods for celebration program has helped us snack healthier at home too. I find myself buying much more veggies and fruits for them to snack on outside of school rather than quick snack packs of something… it’s actually helped me get in touch with my creative side as now I put together nonedible treats for my kids’ class and it’s so much more fun and healthy!” – Debra Chasse – parent of a Kindergarten and Grade 3 student
“I think it’s great that Great Falls has adopted the no food for celebration procedure. It’s better for them and it teaches kids that there is more to celebrations than the sugary treats. My daughter doesn’t miss it a bit.” – Stacy Smith – parent of a Grade 1 student
Great Falls wellness team also surveyed Gorham School District staff through email and found that over 70% of staff supported the implementation of more fun and active non-food celebrations. As the district website states: “Non-food tokens such as stickers or pencils can be used to celebrate birthdays while promoting a healthier school environment.”
On behalf of the Let’s Go! Cumberland County team and our statewide Let’s Go! community, we would like to congratulate the Great Falls wellness team for their hard work and success in supporting children’s health!