Thankful for Good Choices, Good Math, and Good Community

By Roni Kanter, Lower School Teacher, Hackley School

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Recently, our third graders were asked to think and write about whether they agreed or disagreed with that statement and why.

Overall, our students agreed with this idea, offering reasons such as, “It gives me energy for the day,” “It helps me concentrate more on my schoolwork because I don’t feel hungry,” and “It keeps my stomach from growling before lunch.”

With these impressions as a starting point, we set out to learn about our food choices and the many layers of impact they have on us individually, on our community and on the world.

We began by learning about the importance of healthy eating with the help of Hackley coach and personal trainer Lisa Pavarini. She explained how a healthy breakfast can help us think, remember and focus better in school. Together, we shared ideas and suggestions for healthy breakfast foods that provide us with the energy we need to learn, play and do our best at school. Coach Lisa even gave us some tips on what to look for in the ingredients section of packaged breakfast items. Some of our students were already thinking about small changes they could make to their early morning routine. They were now ready for the next step.

What makes for a healthy breakfast?

Thanksgiving was just around the corner, a time when we typically gather with family and friends, filling our bellies with delicious holiday fare. For our third grade class, this presented the opportunity to think about all we have to be thankful for, and to remember that there are many who are not quite as fortunate as we are. Students were asked to consider that there are families near and far who want to make those same healthy choices we had just talked about, but who may not have the funds to do so.

Using what we’d learned about making healthy food choices, we then found a way to practice our math skills — adding, subtracting and estimating with money while helping others. Luckily for us, Renee Pabst, Health Education Department Chair, was on hand to help us kick off a project-based learning activity called Benevolent Breakfast Buying for Beginners.

How far can you stretch $50 to support healthy eating?

Beginning with a virtual $50 gift card, each student was challenged to buy as many healthy breakfast items as they could for those unable to afford to purchase these items themselves. Working in pairs, students considered factors such as the price, nutritional value and the number of servings contained in a package. This was a great exercise in collaboration and cooperation as well as a life lesson in the types of trade-offs people make every day in the real world.

After the shopping, students reflected on their purchasing strategies. Issie noticed that “Even though it was all healthy, some of them were more healthy than others.” Oscar reasoned that he “chose oatmeal because it had the most servings.” Max described a tough call he had to make, explaining that “I bought this item because it is good for you and helps you grow, but it was not that cheap.” Finally, Patrick had his own problem to solve, noting, “I figured out that I had too much and that I didn’t have enough money…The strategy I used to figure out what to take out was I looked at my list and I started to look for the item that fed the least amount of people.”

The students came away from this activity with new skills, insight into the realities of food insecurity, and empathy for members of our community who face these challenges for real. They learned how far they could stretch their money and tried their best to do the most good. Concluding her project, Jackie wrote, “I wish this was a real store so I can really give poor people meals.”

Jackie, we couldn’t agree more! Now that we had given serious thought to nutrition and the importance of a healthy breakfast, had practiced shopping for healthy breakfast items, and experienced the challenges of buying these items, it was time for the next step in what we hope might evolve into a lifelong project.

Over two weeks in November, the whole Hackley School community joined in a food drive to benefit the Community Food Pantry of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. The Lower School decided to focus its efforts on donating healthy breakfast items — items containing as few ingredients as possible that do not have sugar appearing first in the list, such as whole grain cereal and oatmeal, 100% fruit and vegetable juice, and legumes. If anyone needed help selecting healthy non-perishable breakfast items, we knew where they could find a bunch of third graders who could point them in the right direction!

We hope that while we make good choices about how best to fuel our bodies, we will also remember this simple way to help others have the same opportunity to make these good choices.

This holiday season, we are thankful for all that we have, including our Hackley family, so many of whom think and act on ideas like Mariana’s: “I think it is important to feed as many people as possible so people can have a better life.”