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Rewarding Students With Fun, Not Food

By Rebecca Wurman, 7th grade teacher at LaCorte-Peterstown School 3

Mohandas Ghandi once said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world," and I planned to do just that. As a teacher I was taught the importance of modeling behaviors I wished to see from my students and verbalize the significance of such actions.

From the very first day of school, my 7th grade students wanted to know everything that I would tell them about myself. I shared with them what town I am from, a little about my family, how old I am, and an interesting fact- I have been a vegetarian for 17 years. This sparked more conversation than I had planned and the questions started immediately. What do you eat every day? Why did you make this decision? Is it hard to be a vegetarian? Don’t you just want to eat a bacon cheeseburger?

As I sat in the front of the room, I looked around and really thought about how society has changed and how we are so likely to make unhealthy choices because of the convenience factor which has now lead to such unhealthy lifestyles.

Being an active member of the School Wellness Committee, I decided to have my students look within themselves and make one realistic change that could change the quality of their life. The majority of them wrote about how they can put down the video games and remote controls and get outside to be more physically active. The remaining students wrote about incorporating more healthy food into their diet, and substituting junk food for fresh fruits and vegetables. I enjoyed having the kids recognize their unhealthy behaviors and create realistic solutions.

The school hosted a competition amongst all the classes and the winning class would receive a very enticing prize, an ice cream party! My class was determined to win, and I am proud to say they did earn the ice cream party. However, after a year of teaching them how to make healthy choices, I could not justify rewarding my class with food, especially junk food.

I spoke with my principal, Jennifer Campel, and presented her the idea of allowing my students to challenge the class that won second place to a kickball game in the park. She was thrilled with this idea and was open to the change.

When I announced to the class that we weren't having the party I could see the instant disappointment on each of their faces. Quickly, however, I followed that statement with the new plan and could instantly feel the mood change and the excitement. Each class made team T-shirts to help get us in the spirit and the days leading up to the event were filled with true excitement and enthusiasm.

The kickball game was a huge success. The students felt that being active could be fun and had the opportunity to work together as a team. They saw me, their teacher, outside the walls of the classroom and actually playing side by side with them.  In the remaining days of school, numerous memories were shared from that afternoon. "Remember when the ball bounced off Ashley's head and Facundo caught it, making the third out for the other team?" "Remember when all the bases were loaded and Bladimir kicked a home run, scoring our team 4 points?" "Or when Ms. Wurman called all of us into a team huddle just so we could start chanting!" This experience was far more memorable and exciting to them than any ice cream party would have ever been.

Making the decision to have my students participate in a kickball game, and watching their faces glow was such a rewarding experience for me. It only takes a few small changes to make a very big difference!