Saturday, December 16, 2006

Healthy Food Alternative vs. Police In MPS

The Milwaukee school board recently adopted a plan which will put four police officers in Milwaukee Public Schools on a regular basis for the first time in an attempt to control rising levels of school violence. Not only does the $500,000 plan fail by adding only four police officers to protect a school district of 217 schools, but it fails to address other serious problems such as MPS's shameful 45% graduation rate.

I have no objection to the idea of putting officers into schools for our children's safety, but I feel that this plan will not prevent violence but only attempt to control it with too few police officers to make a significant impact. The school board should develop a plan which addresses not only violence prevention but the district's embarrassing graduation rates as well.

I encourage the school board to explore a healthy, high-nutrition food program, which studies show can decrease aggressive tendencies in students (decreasing the potential for fights) and improve test scores at the same time. This type of plan addresses two of the district's most glaring problems and inspires hope that our children may one day be safer and better educated.

Marco Visscher from the independent magazine, Ode, explains how removing junk food can curb violence. He explains that when high blood-sugar levels caused by soda and candy fall, the body attempts to replace the sugars with adrenaline, which can make a person “irritable and explosive.”

Visscher cites the work of criminal justice professor Stephen Schoenthaler who explains how healthy eating can improve test scores. Schoenthaler supervised an experiment in 803 schools in low-income areas of New York City where sugar and junk food were replaced with fresh, nutritious food. The schools' test scores rose from “11 percent below the national average (on final exams) to five percent above.”

One of the best examples of the success this type of program can have exists only 100 miles north of Milwaukee. The Appleton Central Alternative High School is a school for developmentally challenged students which formerly needed police to help with security. Since implementing a healthy eating program and removing soda from vending machines the school no longer needs help from the police and has fewer litter and vandalism problems.

Morgan Spurlock, director of the movie Supersize Me and author of the book, Don't Eat This Book, cites other instances which highlight the effectiveness of these programs. He discusses James Monroe High School in Los Angeles, where students participated in planning the school's healthy food program. Since the change, the school's violent suspensions were reduced by a whopping 75%, and overall suspensions were reduced by 45%.

In another success story, a healthy food plan was implemented in a prison in Buckinghamshire, England. A group of prisoners underwent a scientific study which involved a control (placebo) group and a group which was given nutritional supplements. The results were astounding. The control group showed no change, but the supplement group showed 37% less serious infractions or violent acts.

Combating violence in our schools before it begins is possible if the school board is willing to implement a healthy food program in MPS. If the board is skeptical about a healthy food plan they must first look at their own plan which authorizes spending a half-million dollars for four police officers with the hopes that they can protect MPS's almost 90,000 students.

While the school board feels that police officers are necessary to protect our children now, they are making no attempt to correct the culture of violence which has enveloped MPS. The board is only throwing money at a problem with the dire hope that taxpayers, parents, and teachers will be fooled into thinking that the their $500,000 plan is the city's best option.

I agree that MPS currently need police officers to protect our children and our teachers, but I also feel that there is an option which may reduce or eliminate that need in the future which the school board has not even addressed. A healthy food plan at MPS would not only increase the health of Milwaukee's children, but it may make them safer and give them a better chance for success in their studies and in their lives.

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