My two oldest daughters attend a very good American school. It is rated “A+” in our state. Moreover, the community in which we live voluntarily raised property taxes (more than 80% voted in favor of it) so that the schools could continue to have art, music, and PE and sufficient staff. The teachers are dedicated. The lunches are (like most schools) overly processed crap so I pack my girls’ food daily, but that is my only “complaint”.
Nevertheless, I feel great envy when I compare it to some of the practices in the French school system: particularly food and exercise.
Take school lunches for example. The food is prepared on site and the “fruits, vegetables, fish and meat are sourced locally, some of them from local farms,” according to Dany Cahuzac, the city counselor in charge of school matters, including the [lunchroom]. The local bakery delivers bread, a staple of every French meal, fresh every morning. And every two days, there is at least one organic item on the menu. Once a month, an entirely organic meal is served. The only drink offered at lunchtime is filtered tap water, served in glass pitchers … As the children come streaming into the [lunchroom], they sit down at tables of four that are already set and wait for older student volunteers to bring the first course to their table. The child who sits at the designated “red” chair is the only one who is allowed to get up to fetch more water in the pitcher, extra bread for the bread basket, or to ask for extra food for the table. After finishing the first course (often a salad), volunteers bring the main course platter to the table and the children serve themselves. A cheese course follows (often a yogurt or small piece of Camembert, for example), and then dessert (more often than not, fresh fruit). “We do our best to vary our menus throughout the weeks and months, but sometimes children don’t like certain foods,” explains Cahuzac. “We ask children to at least to taste everything and have a few bites before they give up on a food they don’t like.” “Eating a balanced meal while sitting down calmly is important in the development of a healthy child,” adds Cahuzac. “It helps them to digest food properly, avoid stomachaches and avoid sapped energy levels in the afternoon.”
My daughters get a 20 minute recess and a 30 minute gym class twice a week. What do French kids their age get?
Lucky for them, “elementary-aged students throughout the country have three set recess periods during the day: a 15-minute run-around in the morning, a 60-minute recess after lunch, and another 15-minute break in the afternoon” and “Aside from two hour long periods of gym during the week, kids often walk during school outings and field trips (which can include anything from an hour to the local library, a visit to local farms, to the lakeside for paddleboard lessons, or a hike up a local mountain). Walking is emphasized in even younger ages — indeed 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool will walk up to 2 kilometers in an afternoon to go visit the local library. Sometimes they walk to the local retirement home to sing songs for the elderly.”
Is it any surprise the obesity rates for French children are among the lowest in the world and have not been increasing?
Why doesn’t America put as much effort in to meeting the health needs of our school-aged children? France spends a smaller % of their national budget on education that the US does. Granted, they have lower PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores than the USA, but America only ranks 14th internationally; behind countries like Canada, Sweden, Belgium, Iceland, Japan, Norway, and Australia. American kids also spend more time in school than a lot of the countries who outrank us in testing. So we focus on testing above the health and well-being of our students, but we are still trailing behind in testing?
People often argue, incorrectly, that the problem in America is the number of non-English speaking immigrant children “flooding” our school systems. That’s malarkey. Canada gets twice as many immigrants per capita as the US and their test scores leave ours in the dust. In fact, several of the countries beating our PISA scores (like Sweden and Australia) get more immigration per capita AND spend less time in school and more time at play.
Frankly, I think American schools need to be more concerned about the children, as opposed to the children’s test scores.