Ten years ago, Dr. Yvonne Sanders-Butler, the principal of Browns Mill Elementary School in Lithonia, Georgia, banned sugar in the school. Her motivation was both personal and professional.
I nearly lost my life to a stroke 13 years ago, said Sanders-Butler. It was the result of a lifetime of loving sugar and overeating.
After that, I made a lifetime change and lost 60 pounds. It wasnt about dieting, it was about maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
When I became principal here, she continued, I knew I had a responsibility to change the way my kids were eating. I believed poor nutrition impacted their academic performance and their behavior, and I knew good nutrition could improve those things.
Students reading scores improved by 15 percent, and Sanders-Butler believes the ban on sugar helped students better concentrate on their schoolwork.
Along with banning sugar, Sanders-Butler instituted a program in which students get 60 minutes a day of physical activity. And the school also provides a morning and afternoon fitness program for teachers. All teachers participate in a regular exercise program at least three or four times per week, but they can choose which form of exercise they prefer to do. There are structured a.m. and p.m. training sessions led by a fitness instructor at the school, so teachers have the option to participate in either of those. Teachers who prefer to work out independently can sign up to use treadmills or a step machine in the school gym. There are also walking teams for teachers, and some teachers exercise outside of school at gyms like Ballys or in programs like Curves.
All teachers participate in some part of our wellness program, Sanders-Butler said. Teachers feel good about exercising because it makes them more fit, so you dont have to press them to participate. Its just a part of our schools culture.
When teachers feel good, they expend their energy in positive ways, working effectively with their students.
Browns Mill has achieved objective recognition of its student and faculty achievements. It was honored as a Georgia School of Excellence in 2005 and 2008 and as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2005.
The ban has meant that Browns Mills cafeteria serves more vegetables and fruits than before. Skeptics initially said that would mean higher food costs for the school, but it hasnt. Sanders-Butler said the change in the kinds of foods the school provides students has actually led to $600,000 in savings over the past 10 years.
At first, I asked grocery stores to donate foods, she said, and they were good about donating healthy things. Now we continue saving because we buy in bulk. My food budget has been in the black for the past 10 years.
Sanders-Butler pointed out that President Barack Obama included in his 2010 budget a total of $1 billion in spending on school nutrition. She believes a federal mandate will be necessary for schools at a local level to serve more nutritious foods. She cites fear of change as the reason for this.
Change is so necessary, she said. If we dont change our childrens diet, our kids will end up with stroke, cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
The Browns Mill nutrition program has had an impact on the entire community of Lithonia. Teachers assign homework that requires students to cook healthy foods at home. Sanders-Butler teaches cooking classes for parents and works with the student cooking club. Parents see their childrens school performance and physical health improving, and they support the schools ban on sugar.
Sanders-Butler has penned three books, including Healthy Kids, Smart Kids: The Principal-Created, Parent-Tested, Kid-Approved Nutrition Plan for Sound Bodies and Strong Minds, which was co-written with Barbara Alpert. The book is the story of the sugar ban at Browns Mill and its results, with 50 recipes vetted by students.
The Browns Mill nutrition program is so successful it has been adopted as a model by 17 schools in Fulton County, Georgia. Programs like ours now impact 20,000 students, Sanders-Butler said.