HAVERHILL — With second-graders tackling an assignment on writing a persuasive letter, what sorts of topics might you expect them to be enthusiastic about?
More free time at school? A longer summer vacation? The availability of candy in the classroom?
That was not the case in Sandy Green's class at Golden Hill Elementary — most especially not the latter.
Rather, these children were passionate advocates for being served healthier breakfasts, specifically focusing on lower sugar counts, and concerned about how their trash is affecting the planet.
"We've been discussing nutrition and recycling, so I posed the question, should there be some changes to our school breakfast?" Green said.
She shared the letters with School Committee member Toni Sapienza Donais, a long-time Haverhill educator, who along with committee member Maura Ryan-Ciardiello dropped into Green's classroom Wednesday.
The children agreed their free breakfasts taste good, but were willing to sacrifice that for healthier offerings with less sugar so they "don't get sick," as one child put it.
Free breakfast and lunch was included in Superintendent Margaret Marotta’s budget for the 2019-20 school year and was fully funded by Mayor James Fiorentini.
The breakfasts they receive to eat at their desks typically include juice packs containing 12 grams of sugar, cookies with 7 grams and cereal with 9 grams, and that's not counting sugar that's in their cartons of milk or any other snacks, Sapienza Donais explained to the children.
"Just in your breakfast alone, you're 3 grams above what is recommended for adults," Sapienza Donais said.
The American Heart Association recommends adult sugar intake be limited to 25 grams daily.
"Too much sugar can lead to obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes," Sapienza Donais said.
In modifying the meal, second-grader Colleen Welch said she would like fresh fruit to be included with breakfast.
"I'd like to see apples and stuff," she said
Another student, Ciara Wallace, said, "They should change the breakfast as my parents like me to eat healthy. There's too much sugar."
Assistant Superintendent Michael Pfifferling, who also attended the presentation, noted that the cereals served to children contain approximately 25% less sugar than supermarket brands.
"These products are modified to meet the Nutritional Standards for School Meals set by the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service," he said, adding that they also provide 100% juice drinks and whole grain snacks.
Ciara also expressed her concerns about the trash they generate "that might hurt the sea turtles and other animals."
Erik Lizardo said he's worried about all of the plastic packaging that comes with breakfast — plastic bags, plastic bowls of cereal, plastic pouches of cookies and crackers, and utensils also wrapped in plastic.
"We do have a recycling box," however, Erik pointed out.
Molly Sullivan explained in her letter that she, too, is concerned with where the trash might end up.
"It might go into the sea and hurt sea animals," she wrote.
In discussing the thinking behind the assignment Green said, "I wanted my students to realize their voices can be heard."
That mission likely was accomplished when Sapienza Donais suggested she share the students' sentiments with fellow committee members.
"Maybe," she said, "we can have the children do a presentation, too."