By Steve Weinstein
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Under Mayor Bloomberg, the DOE has tried to shape up school lunches, too. Hamburgers are now served on whole-wheat buns. Chicken nuggets and French fries remain on the menu, but they're baked instead of fried.
Still, some feel that the Education Department has misplaced its energy. "If the Education Department wants to combat obesity," says Loren Steele, a science teacher at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, "why not provide more fresh fruits and vegetables at lunchtime? Our school has a salad bar, but most of the items are canned—canned green beans, canned kidney beans, canned corn. That's not appealing to kids."
Jill Crandall, the mother of a LaGuardia High School senior and a diabetes researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says that when her daughter was in elementary and middle school, she only had gym once a week. "They should be having gym every day, as far as I'm concerned."
Lori Rose Benson, director of the DOE's Office of Fitness and Health Education, says the department is addressing this problem. The number of elementary schools with a dedicated physical ed teacher has risen from 75 percent to 92 percent since 2003, she says, and the DOE, with the help of the Department of Health, has created a curriculum called "Move to Improve" to help classroom teachers in kindergarten through third grade incorporate movement into the classroom.
Still, Crandall doesn't think much of the city's bake sale edict. "As someone who deals with nutrition and thinks a lot about obesity," she says, "I see this as a completely ineffective strategy. Restricting access to dessert once a month is just not going to have any result. It also demonizes certain foods, as if there is never any excuse to eat a cupcake. That's ridiculous. Good nutrition, healthful eating, can always accommodate an occasional treat."
Now, teachers like Fink, at the Beacon School, worry that their after-school projects are doomed. Fink recalls the excitement last year as the students awaited the delivery of the Beacon Ink magazines they had worked so hard on. "They chased the UPS guy down the street," Fink says. "If you had just seen the look on their faces when they opened that box."
Melore, the student from Bronx Science who started the Facebook initiative, shares Fink's frustration. He says the Education Department isn't really thinking about the effect this policy will have on underfunded schools.
"I don't think banning bake sales is going to solve the problem of obesity," says Melore. "I just think it was an easy way for the Education Department to look like they're addressing the problem."