Thursday, May 19, 2011

Weight Challenged in the Classroom

     Yesterday I edited a terrific fiction story by a fourth grade student.  The story included the word "fat" to describe a character in the story.  Right away, I was struck by that word.  As a big kid, I was called "fat" more often than I cared for.  It really left me feeling bad and sad.  So I debated the girl's use of the word as a descriptor.  She used it in an authentic way in dialogue.  It made the story realistic.  Also, she was portraying an issue we deal with in our culture.  I decided to let it stay -- it was her voice and it added to the story.  I also decided to have a "weight challenge" discussion prior to the story presentation.

     I started the discussion with the fact that all people face challenges, and that some challenges are hidden and others are obvious.  I mentioned that our school community helps children with their challenges in many ways with many teachers and activities.  I also stated that "when one student works on his or her challenge it makes that person stronger, but when we help each other with our challenges, it makes the whole community stronger."  Then we specifically talked about weight challenge.  I noted many reasons why people might be bigger including genetics (if your family members are big, you're likely to be big), cost and access to healthy food, and education.  I talked about my own experiences as a weight challenged individual.  I also mentioned that while the word "fat" makes me feel powerless and stigmatized, the words "weight challenge" help me to recognize that this is one of the challenges I face as an individual, and like climbing any personal mountain, I can climb this one too.

    I encourage all educators to think about their weight challenged students.  First, it's important that your schools are places where only healthy food is served and shared, not junk food.  Usually, it's the weight challenged students that gravitate towards the junk food and it's unfair to them to have it around.  Secondly, please don't accept put-down comments towards your weight challenged students.  The prejudice towards overweight individuals should not be tolerated in schools.  Instead, schools should work to institute healthy activities and health education.  Thanks for listening.  I'll continue to think on this topic.  I welcome your feedback.