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    Posted January 7, 2014 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Talking to teens: Healthy bodies

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    Free fruit

    I've been a teacher in a high needs community for almost ten years, but it wasn't until five years ago I began teaching high school. I was horrified to see what my students were filling their bodies with day in and day out. No wonder they were so unfocused and tired - they were in constant fluctuation between being so hungry they couldn't focus to being so full of sugar and processed foods that they were falling asleep. I watched them scarf down Hot Cheetos with a Poptart and soda for breakfast; I watched some of them skip lunch but snack on another bag of Hot Cheetos or potato chips for lunch. These were snacks being sold to them in our building, and some kids sold so much they were selling things from their backpacks for extra spending cash. The scariest part was that when I engaged them in conversation about the nutritional value (or lack thereof) in their food, they looked at me cluelessly. They had no idea, though they often did seem to care after I pointed out some concerns.

    After a few months, I couldn't handle watching this. I started buying fruit for my classroom. I kept a fruit basket on my desk at all times and told the students they were allowed to eat whole foods - food that grew in the ground, on a bush, or on a vine, I told them. The food could not be processed at all. The fruit on my desk was always free, and they were always welcome to bring whole foods from home. They have to ask for it in the language that I teach (Spanish) but at typically allowed to eat as much as they want. Sometimes a student will try to justify their Poptart as healthy, claiming the pastry part was once wheat, which grows in the ground, and the strawberries grew in the ground too. But I explain to them that's no more a whole food than a piece of paper,and sometimes we look up the nutritional value of food on a food chart to show them just how little nutrients are really in some of the foods they love.

    I spend anywhere from $50-$80 a week "feeding" my classroom. Many students stop by on their way to other classes to grab a snack, always asking. Some aren't even students that I know, but I'm happy to share. Trader Joe's knows me by now as the fruit teacher. In class I find that students are more focused and asking questions about the foods that they eat, thinking for sometimes the first time about the foods they are putting in their bodies. I think a lot of my students don't honestly know how to evaluate a food to understand it's nutritional value; it's certainly not a trait I learned at school either...and that's a shame.

    Jessica Whiteside
    Canton, Michigan
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