Should Santa Be Allowed in School?

A school district in Oregon recently came under fire for circulating a memo banning Santa Claus — as well as any religious imagery — in classroom decorations. As you can imagine, parents are voicing their opinions on both sides of the issue, causing many to ask: Should Santa Claus be allowed in public schools?

Oregon’s Hillsboro school district is at the center of the recent controversy regarding Santa Claus in the classroom. It started when school administrators distributed a memo asking employees to refrain from using religious imagery, or Santa, in their classroom decorations.

“We will not be holding a door decorating contest this year,” read the memo. “You may still decorate your door or office if you like, but we ask that you be respectful and sensitive to the diverse perspectives and beliefs of our community and refrain from using religious-themed decorations or images like Santa Claus.”

The memo was sent to teachers and school staff, not to parents, but it did not take long for parents throughout Oregon — and throughout the country — to weigh in on the issue.

In a year when tempers are already at an all-time high and Americans are divided over issues small and large, it’s no surprise to learn that opinions vary widely on the topic of including Old St. Nick in the classroom.

Jason Ramirez, the parent of a child in the Hillsboro school district noted, “If you’re going to put a giant cross on the window that’s one thing, but I think Santa Claus is more folklore and American history than a religious symbol at this point.”

Cindy Jencks commented commented on the story with a different opinion, “Celebrate diversity by letting everyone decorate the way they want to for the holiday season. Encourage acceptance of people’s differences. Don’t ban religious themes. We are all different and there lies the beauty of it all.”

A 1984 Supreme Court ruling (Lynch vs. Donnelly) found that many of the symbols of Christmas — such as the tree, Santa Claus and even the nativity scene — are secular images that do not advocate a particular religious view. By that standard, images of Santa would be no different than say a shamrock in March or a red leaf in autumn.

But the winter holidays have always hit a special nerve for Americans. And Santa Claus is undeniably a symbol of Christmas, a holiday that is both secular and nonsecular, with roots in both religion and over commercialization.

Personally, I tend to lean toward Jencks’ point of view. Don’t ban Santa from the classroom, bring him on in. But also bring in the menorahs and dreidels and the symbols of Kwanzaa. Teach children about all of the various holidays that people celebrate throughout the year so that everyone feels welcome and included.

Now that would be something to celebrate.

Standing Desks Make Students Fitter and Smarter

We do go on about our standing desks. And while all of us standinistas might feel sharper and smarter, a systematic review of standing and treadmill desks in the workplace “showed mixed results for improving psychological well-being with little impact on work performance.” Perhaps we are just too old; a newer study led by Ranjana K. Mehta at Texas A&M; has come to a different conclusion, finding real cognitive improvements in high school students who used standing desks.

Mehta tested a group of high school students in the fall semester using four computerized tests and a portable brain imaging device to study brain activation patterns. After they used standing desks for 27 weeks, she tested them again. She is quoted in a news release:

“Test results indicated that continued use of standing desks was associated with significant improvements in executive function and working memory capabilities,” Mehta said. “Changes in corresponding brain activation patterns were also observed.”

Another Texas A&M; professor had something to say about this:

“There has been lots of anecdotal evidence from teachers that students focused and behaved better while using standing desks,” added Mark Benden, Ph.D., CPE, co-researcher and director of the Texas A&M; Ergonomics Center. “This is the first examination of students’ cognitive responses to the standing desks, which to date have focused largely on sedentary time as it relates to childhood obesity.”

Benden previously studied students with standing desks to see if they could assist in fighting childhood obesity, (they did, with students burning 15 percent more calories; read TreeHugger’s coverage about that aspect) but also found that students were more engaged and involved.

“Standing workstations reduce disruptive behaviour problems and increase students’ attention or academic behavioural engagement by providing students with a different method for completing academic tasks (like standing) that breaks up the monotony of seated work,” Benden said. “Considerable research indicates that academic behavioural engagement is the most important contributor to student achievement. Simply put, we think better on our feet than in our seat.”

Benden, an engineer, even started a company, Stand2Learn, which makes adjustable standing desks for schools. No doubt it will do well; the results of the two studies are really impressive, showing that giving students standing desks “can effectively increase energy expenditure and physical activity as well as ensure (and enhance) cognitive development and educational outcomes.”

And Professor Benden, trademark that line “we think better on our feet than in our seat.” It’s a keeper.

Save Money on Back-to-School Snacks and Drinks at These Retailers

Much as we hate to admit it, it’s time to start thinking about back to school. I’m sure we’d love to not buy anything for the start of a new school year until the day before, but that’s never a good idea. Store shelves will be empty, and we’ll miss out on the savings we get from clipping coupons and matching them up with store specials. We’ve already bought much of the paper, pens, folders and other items on the long list of school supplies for both of my boys. Now, with this month’s printable grocery coupons, there’s an opportunity to save some money on the snacks we’ll be putting in their lunch boxes.

There are plenty of coupons for healthier snacks and even drinks like single-serve organic milk or juice pouches in this month’s offerings. In fact, most of the organic and natural coupons this month are for kid-friendly items to include in your healthy school lunches.

Target (must be used at Target stores)

  • Horizon Single-Serve Organic Milk 6 or 12 pack $1/1
  • Horizon Snacks, Buy One Get One Free
  • Food Should Taste Good Snacks $.75/1
  • Horizon Mac & Cheese $1.10/2
  • Larabar Bars $.75/3
  • Beech-Nut Organic Jars $1/3
  • Gerber Organic 2nd Food Pouches $1/5
  • Gerber Organic Pouches $1/4.

  • Horizon Snacks, Buy One Get One Free
  • Food Should Taste Good Chips $.75/1
  • Horizon Mac & Cheese $1/2
  • Horizon Single Serve Organic Milk 6 or 12 pack $1/1
  • Larabar Bars $.75/3
  • Gerber Organic Pouches $1/4
  • Plum Organics Kids Mashups Packs $1/2

Whole Foods (must be used at Whole Foods stores)

  • Barbara’s Better Granola $1.50/2
  • Organic Valley Stringles 6-pac $1/1
  • Way Better Snacks $1/1
  • 365 Dried Fruits $.50/1
  • Whole Foods Organic Juice Blend $1/1
  • Stonyfield Yo Kids $1/2
  • Mary’s Gone Crackers $1/1
  • Kashi Cereal $1/1
  • Honest Kids Juice $.50/1

Smart Source

  • GoGo SqueeZ $1/1
  • GoGo SqueeZ $1/2
  • Kikkoman Soy Sauce (organic option) $.55/1
  • Seeds of Change, Get 1 Free (after taking short survey, coupon will be sent)
  • Earth Balance Mayo or Spread $1/1
  • Florida Crystals Organic Sugar $.55/1
  • Wholesome Sweetener $1/1