Chalk Talk

No more mystery meat

The tempting smell of pepperoni pizza drifted through the air as students poured into the cafeteria.

But 11-year-old Cameron Landry walked straight past the cheesy slices and started piling organic lettuce, pita pockets, and blueberries on his tray.

Sounds like a nutritionist's dream. But it's reality at Lincoln Elementary in Olympia, Wash. The school's organic salad bar has proven so popular - and surprisingly economical - that all Olympia grade schools now have one.

"The food is pretty good. And it's much better because you actually have a choice," Cameron said as he chowed down on salad. "Otherwise, it's 'eat this or nothing!' "

While fried chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers still reign supreme in most cafeterias, a small but growing number of schools are turning to organic food as a way to improve children's health and fight obesity. "This is the beginning of the sea change," predicted Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Relax, it's only a test

Paula Throckmorton gave a science test to her fifth-graders, confident that they knew the material thoroughly. They all flunked. Then she asked them the same questions in an informal discussion, and most gave the correct answers. Her diagnosis: test anxiety.

Her prescription: a new routine to help everyone relax. Shortly before giving an exam, Throckmorton puts on a pair of Elmo slippers, a banana nose, and a funny hat. She turns on classical music and dims the lights for a few minutes to help her students clear their heads.

"I can't tell you, mathematically, that it helps them perform better, but it makes them dread the test less," Throckmorton said of the unorthodox method, which she has used for four years at Porta Central School in Petersburg, Ill.

Teachers lose tax breaks

If Doreen Seelig pocketed all the money she has spent on classroom supplies over 35 years as a high school teacher in Los Angeles - the printer cartridges, the paper, the pencils, and the paperback books - she figures she would have a new car by now.

Now, as the new school year gets under way, the burden on Seelig and other teachers around the country is even heavier. Because of a budget crunch, California has suspended a tax credit that reimbursed teachers up to $1,500 for classroom supplies. Seelig said she will still buy hundreds of dollars worth of materials that districts do not provide.

"What are we going to do, tell the kids, 'Sorry, there's no paper today,' or tell them they can't print because there's no ink?" Seelig asked. "I know I couldn't do it."

- Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service and Associated Press

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