January 30, 2009
A suburban Atlanta school principal claims to have a simple solution to improve test scores, reduce discipline problems and improve student health: ban sugar.
"My personal health challenges inspired this," said Yvonne Sanders-Butler, who once suffered from obesity and severe high blood pressure.
For the past ten years, the now-trim principal has required students at Browns Mill Elementary in Lithonia to participate in daily physical exercise and eat healthy foods. Her school enforces a strict ban on sugar.
"I just think it's a great idea," said Kimberly Morcroft, who was politely turned away as she attempted to deliver cupcakes to the school in celebration of her daughter's 10th birthday. "She dropped a pant size just from last year to this one," Morcroft said, smiling at her daughter.
According to Butler, standardized test scores increased 15 percent at the school within the first year of the program. She said discipline problems decreased by 23 percent. Student health has improved and obesity at the school has been virtually eliminated.
"For me, it was not just about educating children about reading, writing and arithmetic," Butler said. "If these people were going to be successful, I had to ensure that they were going to be healthy."
Initially, Butler's sugar-free program faced resistance from skeptics who feared it would bust tight school budgets. The principal said she paid nutrition experts, who revamped the school cafeteria menu, out of her own pocket. And ordering the new food items in bulk ended up saving money.
"In nine years, we have saved $425,000," Butler said. "We've done that not by cutting back but actually by having more fruits and vegetables."
Seventeen other Atlanta-area schools have implemented the program, and Butler said she has received hundreds of calls from educators and health officials around the world wanting to learn more about her "sugar-free zone."
The program is even popular with students, who rave about carrots and cauliflower with the same enthusiasm children at other schools talk about cupcakes and candy bars.
"I love broccoli," said 5th grader Ryani Durham. "Most kids don't. But I'm one of those kids who loves broccoli."