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Recognizing Children's Birthdays with Books, Not Sweet Treats

If it's your birthday at Stedman Elementary School in Petersburg, your day is going to start off with a school-wide celebration. The principal will announce your name during morning announcements. You'll be invited to walk down the hallway to the main office and pick up your signed birthday certificate. Then you will pick out your own book that you get to keep in honor of your birthday.

Recognizing Children's Birthdays with Books, Not Sweet Treats

What you won't get is a cupcake in your classroom. That's because Stedman Elementary is one Alaska school that has changed its birthday celebrations to recognize a child's special day in a healthy way. Watch this video to see how the program works at this Petersburg school

Teri Toland, the school principal, said her staff talked about how they could celebrate birthdays in school. If they considered a classroom of 20 students, that could mean celebrating 20 different birthdays each year, and 20 different days when students ate sugary treats at school to celebrate those birthdays.

"As parents, we realized that having an extra treat at school wasn't necessary," Toland said.

As teachers, they realized that 20 different days of cupcakes in the classroom was causing a disruption to many school days. Furthermore, allowing families to bring sugary treats to the classroom put parents in a difficult position, Toland said. Some parents couldn't afford to bring in treats for the whole class.

Recognizing Children's Birthdays with Books, Not Sweet Treats

"It kind of differentiates between those who have and have not, and those who can and cannot," Toland said. Celebrating students with school-supplied books and not parent-supplied treats removed that issue for families who couldn't afford to bring in cupcakes and ensured every student was celebrated in the same way. The birthday books given to Stedman students don't cost the school, or the parents, anything. The books are purchased using the proceeds collected from the annual school book fair.

Toland said switching to the birthday book celebration wasn't an easy change for everyone to make, but the staff stuck with it and over time parents stopped bringing in sugary treats for their children's birthdays. Healthy snacks, like fruits and vegetables, are still allowed if parents choose to bring them for the class. Toland said parents rarely choose to do that. Toland helps ensure that all parents and staff know the birthday policy by starting each school year with a school bulletin that explains how birthdays are celebrated at Stedman Elementary.

"It's been a good way to teach kids that we eat healthy snacks," she said.

This is what Alaska communities are doing to help kids grow up healthy. What can your community do? Click here to find more ideas to provide healthy foods, drinks and physical activity for kids.​​​​​​​​