Food Glorious Food

Schools are daily bombarded with news headlines asking them to tackle global concerns or worse accusing them of causing these global problems. This weekend, the Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges expressed concern about the growing number of schools not complying with nutrient standards in the provision of school lunches. Research shows that children who eat healthy school lunches consume less salt and fat and helps deal with the fight against childhood obesity.

Childhood Obesity is a growing problem which schools are trying to tackle. Latest figures show almost a third of 10- and 11-year-olds and over a fifth of four- to five-year-olds are either overweight or obese. Pupils today are saturated with images of food that are quick to consume, high in sugars and fats which provide an immediate boost to their energy levels and then quite soon a sugar low, leading them to consume more of the product. This fluctuation in their energy levels affects their moods, their concentration and their waistlines.

I am often surprised when I take girls on school trips in their reluctance to eat a proper breakfast, preferring sugary options later in the morning. Girls resort to skipping proper meals thinking they are saving on the calories, and then find, because they are growing that their body needs the food. To fill the gap they consume the sugary bar to restore their energy and soon find that they are on the path to poor eating habits and poorly regulated dietary system. This reluctance to eat breakfast, I am sure, stems from them being  bombarded with images of how they should look, images of size zero models, flawless looking with tips on what they can do to get to this size.

As schools we are placed in contradictory positions, tackling obesity whilst looking after girls who seek to look like the perceived ideal of a size zero. We continue to try and educate the girls about the importance of a proper diet: eating three properly balanced meals and healthy snacks. It can be an uphill battle, but at Bedford Girls’ School we work with our catering provision The Green Kitchen to entice girls to try out new dishes, to vary their diet and enjoy freshly cooked, locally sourced food. Through our Science, PE, PSHE and Food Technology curriculum we provide them with effective tools to help maintain a healthy body size which can cope with the demands of modern society. I wish the messages to teenagers in magazines and newspapers were more honest, in the meantime we continue to do what we can to stem the rise in obesity whilst giving girls a positive view on their body image.

Wizards, witches and why red shoes are not the answer to personal happiness

Earlier this academic year I thought it would be a valuable experience to lead a whole year group on a co-curricular trip. I hoped it would provide me with an opportunity to spend more time with the girls, to get to know them in a less formal setting and to offer the girls an enriching experience outside of their normal lessons.

So last week I found myself boarding a coach to London with over 50 Year 8 girls, heading for the musical Wicked. I have to admit it wouldn’t have been my first choice of stage production, but it had been democratically voted by the girls as the West End show they most wanted to see. I was reassured by our RS teacher that the production had some clear philosophical messages that would be very relevant for teenage girls, but still felt there might have been better learning opportunities available.

For the uninitiated Wicked is supposedly the prequel to the Wizard of Oz but in fact the story takes place before, simultaneously and after the familiar Oz tale. It has been described as creating ‘a parallel universe to that of the Wizard of Oz’ and a ‘re-imagining of the same world’ that looks at things very differently. Ultimately, it challenges you to question your preconceptions.

The heroine is none other than the Wicked Witch of the West. She is an unloved outsider because she is different to the rest; most obviously because she is green, but also because she stands by what she believes to be right. She does not worry what others might think; her moral courage inhibits her popularity.  In showing her courage she triumphs. The message clearly delivered is that what you look like is less important than what you stand by.

My RS teacher was right; the importance of this message cannot be underestimated. In a world where there is enormous pressure to attain unreal standards of ‘beauty’ as portrayed in the plethora of fashion magazines and Hollywood movies, it is vital to assert clearly and regularly that a person’s success and self-worth is defined by their beliefs and their actions; not by their looks. This message is as relevant to boys as it is to girls and indeed to adults, but for girls it is an issue that can be particularly painful and destructive in the teenage years. These are issues we discuss in our PSHE lessons, but to see the message played out on stage undoubtedly added a different and perhaps more accessible dimension than classroom discussions alone.

The musical also explores the importance of truth and how society defines good and evil. The wizard manipulates public opinion and through his propaganda the people of the Emerald City believe in the wickedness of the Witch from the West. They seek to destroy her. Glinda, the Good Witch, in her unflinching desire for popularity is seduced by his power. In falling for it, she loses all the people she loves. Discussions of morality, ethics and notions of truth are hotly debated in many of our classrooms at BGS, as key subjects touch upon these vital philosophies. However they can be difficult concepts to grasp and appreciate without a depth of life experience and often their real meaning only becomes apparent as the girls move up into the Sixth Form and have greater ability to understand and debate these ideas. Theory of Knowledge as part the IB Diploma directly asks girls to consider what we consider to be ‘true’ and how that truthfulness or knowledge can be shaped by our experiences and perception.

These significant messages were subtly conveyed against a backdrop of powerful songs, special effects and visually stunning costumes. It was not surprising that we were all captivated by the show and my misgivings laid aside. But the best bit for me was at the end of the evening, waiting for parents to collect their daughters, hearing the girls discussing the negative effects of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination and appreciating the dangers of propaganda. It was wicked!