PPS Nutrition Curriculum Changes

By Sophie McEwen, Franklin High School’s The Franklin Post

Of all the Portland Public Schools’ (PPS) health curriculum, the nutrition portion has received the most criticism from students and parents at all levels of education. Students across PPS have been asked to calculate their body mass indexes, learned about the addictive nature of sugar and have had to turn in personal daily meal and calorie trackers to their teachers for a grade. 

Franklin senior Vaughn Dillender-Kinast expressed concern with the health curriculum, saying that the curriculum should be reworked. Of the health curriculum he says, “[The curriculum] doesn’t go out and say you have to be skinnier, but it says you have to be healthier. And of course [most people] in the society we live in…think that healthier is skinnier.”

Dillender-Kinast’s sentiments were echoed by an anonymous Franklin student whose mental and emotional health took a hit from the existing curriculum, “the health curriculum’s emphasis on calorie counting and eating a certain way damaged my view on eating and caused me to struggle with unhealthy food habits and restriction for years.”

“There’s really some alarming stories about young children coming home and not wanting to eat because they’re afraid they’re not going to eat the right thing,” says Susannah Lightbourne-Maynard, the PPS K-5 Health Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA). In response to the many complaints, PPS is currently in the process of working to adopt a new nutrition curriculum for all grade levels. Lightbourne-Maynard has been at the head of this curriculum adoption. 

According to PPS Assistant Director for Health and Adapted Education Jenny Withycombe, “[PPS] actually could not find a single vendor whose nutrition education curriculum meets the needs that [PPS is] looking for and speaks to … exactly what our students have said they wanted.” Because of this, the curriculum change goes beyond adopting a new pre-existing curriculum and all the way to PPS drafting a new curriculum. 

The new curriculum intends to turn away from MyPlate (a meal and nutrition tracking program) and weight/food shaming and open doors for young students to explore the world of food and nutrition in a positive and healthy way. Lightbourne-Maynard explains that the curriculum will be, “more culturally affirming, more developmentally appropriate … more joyful, more connected to food and where food comes from. [The curriculum will] remove the stigma around food choices… [and be] more trauma-informed around disordered eating and eating disorders.” 

In third through fifth grade, the curriculum will focus on introducing students to different food activists and learning about fighting for freedom and food rights. The idea is to provide an advocacy perspective to the way that students think about food. This will be carried through all of the years of health education, pushing students to think critically about food access. In terms of high school nutrition curriculum, there is some difficulty, as there isn’t a particular set curriculum at the moment according to Lightbourne-Maynard. 

The current timeline envisioned for the curriculum adoption is piloting in schools sometime from January to June of 2025. After time to make necessary revisions, full adoption of the curriculum is projected for 2026. In the meantime, health teachers will continue to teach nutrition in whatever way they see fit with the standards they currently have. 

PPS seems to be on the right path, but students want them to be vigilant about providing realistic and respectful standards; listening to student feedback; and setting teachers and students up for success. Lightbourne-Maynard wants students to know, “[PPS has] really been listening … I think it can be really hard to be a student and feel like the wheels are turning really slowly or like no one’s hearing you.” 

For a look at the current full K-12 Health Eduction curriculum, visit pps.net/Page/16164.

PPS Nutrition Curriculum Changes

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