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Rogue River schools will cut sugar

District decides to remove sugary foods from elementary and middle school menus even if it means loss of revenue

ROGUE RIVER ' Starting in the new year, the school district will eliminate sugar from its elementary and middle school menus ' even though it may mean taking a financial loss in food service revenues.

Pulling sugary foods was given a trial run with a temporary breakfast program at the middle school recently. But sales dropped dramatically when sugar-laden cereals were replaced with more healthful offerings. The program began losing &

36;10 a day and was closed. (Middle school students still can get breakfast across the street at the elementary school.)

Ethically, philosophically and nutritionally, there is no doubt about what you do ' take sugar off the menu, says district Business Manager Dave Marshall. But these kids would rather not eat breakfast than eat Raisin Bran cereal, and that's creating a financial loss to the district.

Marshall says the district does not have the money to support additional labor for its food service company to cook hot meals such as eggs, pancakes or biscuits and gravy.

It costs more time and labor, but the reimbursement from the state is the same, he says.

Middle School Principal Steve Reed, who has led the charge in making schools as sugar-free as possible, said it's a classic values conflict.

Studies have shown too much sugar negatively impacts student behavior, and I've witnessed the effects in my 22 years of teaching. But I took this to the board because of our financial situation. We are going to lose some small amount of revenue when we take the candy and soda out of the school menus.

The school board approved Reed's plan at last week's meeting. The new menu will begin Jan. 6.

Currently at the school snack bar, there are about 16 items to choose from ' only three of which are sugar-laden candy, soda and cookies. But they are also the least expensive items ' sodas, for example, are 75 cents while water is &

36;1.

Reed says teachers, PTO representatives and site council members all support his quest for better nutrition in the schools.

Even students say that being in class with others ramped up on sugar makes learning more difficult for the entire class.

Leisa Oden, a sixth-grade student at the middle school, says she sometimes brings extra money for treats, but she won't miss the menu change.

I think it would be much better because after we eat lunch and go back to class, they won't be all hyped up, she says.

Some middle school students have learned how to circumvent the district's good intentions.

During a recent lunch period, preteen girls at several tables chatter, barter and share candy, cookies and sodas. Sixth-grader Cierra Davidson explains their common and somewhat complicated barter system.

Cierra brought her sweets from home. A Hostess pie, Twinkie and Capri juice sit in front of her while she waits to trade with friend and fellow student Shawna Turnham.

Shawna comes to the table with tacos from the school's federally funded nutrition program. The two quickly exchange items. Cierra eats Shawna's tacos and Shawna consumes Cierra's home-supplied treats. The two say this is a daily practice between many share-partners.

As they chat, several of the girls barter and share candy and pop with students who either can't afford to buy their own or who want to trade for the federal lunch offerings. At one table of 10, nine of the girls say they eat sugar-laden foods every day.

Conversely, at the boys' table, sharing sugar is not a social tool. Their table is full of pizza, hamburgers and pretzels.

I'm trying to keep my teeth healthy, explains 12-year-old Dillon Jackson. Plus, I'm in sports. We eat real food.

All admitted, however, that consuming treats is a matter of finance. Candy and cookies cost extra money, and the boys say they're loathe to part with cash to have it.

The girls just like to shop! says one boy.

Reed says some parents have no idea of the nutritional choices their kids are making.

Parents send their kids to school with money but have no clue how much junk they buy, he says. I've seen kids buy five, six or seven candy bars at a time and just stuff their pockets.

Sanne Specht is a free-lance writer living in Rogue River. Reach her at RogueRiverGal@aol.com.