Nutritious, educational, and not a ghoul in sight at this school party

In a word, `Halloween'

November 02, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

Taj Pittman strolled down the halls of Running Brook Elementary School in Columbia with a smile on his face that was almost as gigantic as the yellow M&M costume he wore.

Taj, an 7-year-old second-grader, chose the costume to illustrate the word gigantic for his school's annual vocabulary parade - an event Wednesday that added an educational element to the traditional Halloween celebration. Later in the day, Taj and the 340 other students in the school ate healthy party foods that included pretzels, carrots, apples, juice and just an occasional sweet.

Whether it is because of objections by some religious groups, a lack of participation by some families or a growing concern over childhood obesity, many schools such as Running Brook are altering the traditional festivities associated with Oct. 31 by including wit and weight-watching.

Running Brook started its vocabulary parade last year after school officials noticed that more than 20 percent of students did not participate in Halloween celebrations.

"We kept the focus on instruction, and we still had a great time," said Principal Lisa Booth, who was adorned in musical notes. Her word was musical.

Last year, the school also started offering healthier foods during Halloween parties as a result of the Howard County school system's wellness policy. The policy eliminates the sale of high-fat, high-sugar snacks and sodas during the school day and encourages staff members to incorporate physical activity into classroom instruction.

Mary Yarko, whose 6-year-old son Corey is a kindergartner at Running Brook, loves the healthier party foods.

"It's nice that they are getting into that habit now," she said. "You can have a celebration and still be healthy."

Taj's mother, Amelia Pittman, loves the vocabulary parade. Previously, her son did not participate in Halloween activities.

"Halloween wasn't a tradition that we wanted to start," Pittman said. "We didn't play into the scary-costume thing."

Amanda Fitzgerald, an art teacher at the school, said that the vocabulary parade does a good job of including everyone while making the day educational.

"They learn something," said the teacher who was clothed in paisley pants, a green flannel shirt, and a multicolored socks. Her word was mismatched.

Almost every teacher participated in this year's parade.

Maria Moy, a reading specialist who is co-coordinator of the parade, dressed up as a pirate. Her word was buccaneer.

Jodi Aikens, a Title 1 teacher, wore a black-and-white dress with a series of horizontal and vertical lines. Her word was parallel.

Another teacher, Lisa Rounds, wore a pair of yellow rubber gloves, and carried around a container filled with cleaning supplies to represent the word neurotic.

Maya Balco, an 8-year-old fourth-grader, wore doctor's scrubs to represent compassionate.

"It's a very hard job," she explained. Last year, Maya wore pajamas to represent the word exhausted.

The costumes were not the only tradition being altered at Running Brook. Sweet treats such as candy corn and cupcakes were replaced with less-sugary options.

This year, most schools in Howard County sent parents a list of healthy snack suggestions for Halloween parties, according to system spokeswoman Patti Caplan. The suggestions included vegetables, fruits and pretzels.

"The majority of [schools] are having some sweets, some cookies," Caplan said. "It's not just all sugary stuff."

Mary McKnight's kindergarten class exemplified the healthier snack options at Running Brook. Her classroom was almost silent as her students were busy chowing down on carrots, string cheese, crackers and apple slices.

"I think [the changes] are an OK thing. The kids are enjoying themselves," she said.

Corey Yarko, 6, downed a piece of string cheese with a look of satisfaction.

"I just like it," said Corey, who was earlier draped in a calendar, a pointer and a tie to represent his vocabulary word, educate.

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