When a student brought in a cereal box with a graphic explaining the cause of seasons, a Northland Preparatory Academy seventh grade teacher knew something was not right, and set out to change it.
“It’s a common misconception that seasons are caused when the Earth is closer to the sun, but that isn’t true,” teacher Susan Brown said. “On the cereal box, it is implying that distance causes seasons.”
The box, a Safeway-brand frosted wheat cereal, was brought into class three years ago by Nora Blodgett, who is now a sophomore in high school.
“I just thought it was kind of cool that the box was talking about seasons while we were learning about it,” Blodgett said. “I didn’t realize it was wrong right away, but we were talking about it in school.”
After noticing the inaccuracy, Brown started a letter-writing campaign to Safeway. Students wrote their letters as their final assessment for the unit to demonstrate their knowledge of seasons, and drew a new design for the box that they then sent to the grocery store chain.
“Each year, I would bring the box out and show the students and ask them to find the problem,” Brown said. “They usually spotted it pretty quickly. I told them, ‘When I read this, it makes me mad, doesn’t it make you mad?’”
Brown said writing the letters to Safeway has given the students practice at writing persuasive letters, and has shown them their voices can make a difference. Recently, Safeway sent her a letter saying after the stock of the box runs out, they will use a new box design.
“We are committed to offering quality products and accurate information,” Tim Williams, Safeway’s public affairs director, said in the letter. “Due to your students’ letters, our packaging team has been alerted to the inference made on the boxes in question.”
Williams said it was good to hear from students who were engaged in science and cared about spreading accurate information.
“Your students will be pleased to know that our team will be removing the information on those cereal panels,” Williams said. “Artwork is now being updated and once the inventory has been run through, it will be replaced in our stores.”
Brown said the students have felt empowered that their effort has made a difference. She said she thought it might take a few more years to escalate the project, but was happy to receive the letter saying the store would change the box.
Austin Kwan, 13, was one of the students who participated in the letter writing. He said he was not sure the letters would work.
“I think it’s important not to misinform the public,” Kwan said. “When I eat cereal I usually read the box, so I’m glad that we helped inform the public and they will fix it.”
Matthew Morales, 13, said he was “super excited” Safeway planned to change the boxes.
“They should explain it with the right information,” Morales said. “It’s good to know we can help inform the public.”
As for Blodgett, she was glad bringing in the incorrect box helped spark a big change, and hoped Safeway would take her class’ designs into account.
“It’s neat that kids can change the opinion of people, I thought they were ignoring the letters,” she said. “I hope they choose one of the designs we sent them.”
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“Each year, I would bring the box out and show the students and ask them to find the problem. They usually spotted it pretty quickly. I told them, ‘When I read this, it makes me mad, doesn’t it make you mad?’”
--Susan Brown, NPA science teacher