LAKEVIEW — Third grader Gianni Denham doesn't want to brag, but he eats a whopping 12 slices of cucumber, his favorite vegetable, every single day.
"I just like them," he said. "If I wanted to, I could eat 30."
And at lunch at Hamilton Elementary School, he has that option. A daily salad bar is just one of the things Principal James Gray has advocated for in a heavy push for wellness at the school. Other changes include birthday dance parties instead of cupcake parties, Halloween with carrots instead of candy corn and the addition of a dance teacher for more physical activity time.
Gray wants faculty, staff and hopefully, in turn, students to live by a mantra: "A healthy body is a healthy mind."
"Test scores are certainly important, but wellness is just as important," he said. "Someone well-fed will do better in the classroom."
The overall push is partly inspired by an effort to meet health and wellness standards in the "Go for the Gold" program advocated by Michelle Obama and Chicago Public Schools. It's Gray's fourth year at Hamilton and the third year of the first "easy fix" toward wellness—that salad bar.
More recently, the staff has also taken on an attitude that they hope will inspire students to be healthy. Teachers have a yoga class every week. Teacher development day included 13 laps up-and-down the school's stairs. And they try to eat healthy foods for lunch.
"It's a whole shift in thought," said first grade teacher aide Graciela Kierna. "We're just aware of wanting to be healthy for the kids."
Of course, healthy examples does not necessarily make for the ideal healthy student: Gianni, for example, likes eating that massive amount of cucumbers with his favorite dipping sauce, ranch. (A nearby staff member was quick to interject that "it's fat-free!")
Gray just wants to make sure any students are not picking up poor eating or exercise habits at Hamilton.
"They don't need to learn bad habits at school," Gray said.