From Pizza Legislation to Serious Advocacy

Drawing some 1,000 childhood educators, administrators, policymakers, advocates and experts from across the country, the annual national Smart Start Conference held in Greensboro, North Carolina, was home to ECM’s MaryLou Beaver and Ursula Ellis from May 4-7.

They attended workshops, networked, and most importantly participated in a diverse advocacy track at the conference with a presentation titled, “Your Voice Matters: Advocacy and Public Engagement for Early Childhood,” or more affectionately, “A Pizza Legislation” workshop.

And it was pizza legislation that engaged the 35 participants. After an introduction to Every Child Matters and the three legs of the Making a Difference stool, the group learned they would be doing an interactive exercise advocating for or against House Bill 1234 which required all feeding programs—e.g. school lunch programs, childcare programs serving lunches, senior citizen programs—to serve pizza three times a week.

Divided into eight groups and given a tool of persuasion (letter campaign, phone campaign, in-person meeting with a legislator, site visit by a legislator) participants soon lost the deer-in-the-headlights look they had upon hearing the words “interactive exercise and became quite animated as they put together their campaigns.

Moving around the room, the presenters overheard participants saying:  “We need to think outside the box – get it the “pizza box??!!” and  “I am just morally opposed to pizza in schools—how are we going to do this?” But they caught on quickly and as each group reported out, it was clear that future advocates could persuasively place pizza lunches on the menu or take them off with equal ease. Some creative pro statements included supporting and sustaining local agriculture, adding veggies to make pizza a healthy food; creating an experiential learning environment by having kids plant those veggies. Cons included the usual suspects: low caloric value, the road to obesity, and so on. People cheered, laughed, and gave kudos to each other and the presenters.  One even said it was her best workshop so far. No lie!

So, what do you think? Pizza on the menu or off the menu? We think kids programs need a bigger slice of the proverbial pie, with all the toppings.