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Stop, Look, Buy Healthy

October 1st, 2011 - By Therese Madden

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School crossing guards have the intersections covered, but what about the corners? That’s where the “yellow vests” come in. At William D. Kelley Elementary School in North Philadelphia, there’s a group of parents keeping an eye out for bad behavior, bullying and even bad snack choices at the corner store.


We hear about how kids don’t walk to school, but some do. At William D. Kelley Elementary School in North Philadelphia, the majority of the students still walk to school, many of them unescorted by an adult. They do have crossing guards and recently another sort of adult has turned up to help.

Dressed in fluorescent yellow vests, these folks can often be found standing outside a corner store, offering advice. “Shouldn’t be eating that early in the morning, that’s a bunch of sugar, they have breakfast inside,” that’s Al Jordan, one of the parent volunteers known as the “yellow vests.” The main goal of this group is to make sure the kids get to school safely, and on time. But, while they were at it, they figured they could also try to get the kids to make healthy choices.

“You going to eat that this morning, or are you going to eat it this afternoon?” Jordan and the other “yellow vests” greet the kids on their way into the store, there are 4 corner stores surrounding Kelly Elementary. Al Jordan explains how it works, “this is what I say to kids, you have a choice today, either it’s candy or healthy foods tomorrow, but if you choose candy today, I hope you make another choice tomorrow, healthy foods. We don’t force kids to do anything, we just give them a choice.”

Stopping in the store on the way to school is a ritual for many kids. Josiah is a second grader who says he comes to this store every morning, “I get a lot of stuff, like candy, chips, junk food, everything.” And for many kids this is breakfast. Wendy Fine is the school nurse, “the first thing that I noticed when I came to this school was in the morning I would see all the students and they would be eating chips and soda, so that is certainly not a breakfast item to me.”

The school does offer free breakfast to all students, but many choose not to eat it. And according to Stephanie Johnson, a grandmother who volunteers with the “yellow vests,” some of them don’t like to be told what to do. “You get all kinds of answers from them, ‘your not my parent,’ ‘why you telling me this?’ ‘My mom gave me the money,’ but what can you say? You can only say ok, your mother gave you the money, but can you go to school and get a breakfast? You can’t fight fire with fire, sometimes you got to put a little water on it to smother it out, to put it out completely, and that comes with love.”

The “yellow vest” volunteers have to go through training before they join the program. A big part of this training is learning how to deal with resistance. Douglas Evans facilities these workshops, “we want to prepare the parents for how the children may receive them and for some of the negative things the children might say and we want to prepare them that there best defense is to be armed with a smile and a kind word.”

And the good attitudes seemed to have rubbed off on the store owners as well. Glabybell Almonte works at the store directly across from the school, it’s her family’s business. Here’s how she feels about the yellow vests offering advice, “I think it’s fair enough cause the little kids, they do be coming here during school hours, early in the morning, buying candy that’s actually not healthy. Nothing healthy pretty much, sugar, a lot of sugar. So, I think it’s good enough, I think it’s the right thing to do.”


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