Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pigs, Fonts, Chalk and the Bee

I wrote a letter to the editor of the local papers (the two from the valley and the "major" one in Missoula) a week or so ago. I have written letters to the editors several times now over the last few years, and they have all been published in at least one of the local valley papers, but this one was a little more fun for me. The Missoula paper, one of only a small handful of larger papers in the state, decided they wanted to run it as a guest column instead of just a standard letter to the editor, which just looks and feels much cooler on the printed page.

What is it about seeing one's own name typed out on newsprint that is such a rush?

Anyway, here is the content of the letter:

Eating Like Pigs?

I volunteer regularly at my kids' school and count it a privilege to partner
in their education in this way. Part of my time at the school falls over the
lunch hour, so I am able to eat in the school cafeteria once each week and
have been doing this for several years now.

I have grown increasingly disturbed by the content of sack lunches brought
from home and finally came to the boiling point yesterday when I observed the
following collection of items brought by one student for one meal:

- five chicken nuggets
- a large bag of Ruffles(TM) potato chips (the "Big Grab" 3 oz. bag )
- a bag of Cheese Nips(TM) snack crackers
- a twin pack of chocolate-peanut butter cookie bars (Lil' Debbie(TM) snacks)
- a chocolate-coated Kudos(TM) snack bar, peanut butter and chocolate flavor
- a second chocolate-coated Kudos(TM) snack bar, this one Snickers(TM)
- a package of Airheads(TM) candy (full size)
- an 8 oz. bottle of Kool-Aid(TM)
- a 12 oz. can of Pepsi(TM)

One might think this is yet another sad example of teenagers left to fend for
themselves, but no. This was not the lunch of a high school or even a middle
school student; this lunch belonged to a second grader.

I wish I could say that this is an isolated example, a rare occurence in an
otherwise sane world, but I can't. This is perhaps the most extreme example I
have come across, the highest sugar content crammed into the youngest person,
but this style of sack lunch is not unusual among my children's friends.

In contrast, the hot lunch program at Lone Rock School, north of Stevensville,
where my children attend, is outstanding. It is in the top eschelon of school
cafeterias in the entire nation and has won numerous awards at both the local
and national level for its commitment to providing balanced, nutritious meals
to our kids. I personally look forward to eating my one meal per week there.

But having an excellent school lunch program doesn't ensure that our kids are
eating well, either. Over the years, I have been appalled to see the amount
of food that kids leave untouched on their trays. The kids simply turn their
noses up at most of the wonderful food and dump it into buckets at the end of
every lunch hour, as if that is the "cool" thing to do. The buckets of waste,
I've heard, are given as slop to feed some local pigs. Those are some
well-fed pigs.

Do parents have any idea what their kids are actually eating? Have they
authorized the junk that is being brought from home? Do they care at all that
so many of their kids are either loading up on sugar at lunch or going
hungry--both at the parents' expense? Do they realize what kind of students
the teachers are left to deal with in afternoon classes because of these poor
lunch habits? Do they understand why their children come home from school
ravenous, looking for after-school snacks?

Not all parents have the luxury of scheduling large and regular blocks of time
at their kids' schools, but I would encourage parents to visit their
children's school at the lunch hour, at least once, and look around at what
kids are eating--and not eating. If I weren't the only one appalled by what
is going on, then maybe together we could make a difference.

Speaking of cool things in print and specifically type-faces, I have been looking at and hearing good things about a documentary called Helvetica. Yes, it is about the font and fonts in general. Yes, I know. I am a nerd.

I also have good things to report about a mockumentary Andy and I just watched called Chalk. It examines the experiences of new teachers and administrators in our public schools and considers why only 50% of new hires last more than three years. Very well done, humorous and edgy.

In other word-nerd and education related news, Tano was pleased to finish first in his classroom's preliminary spelling bee today. He and the second place finisher will represent his class in the school-wide bee next week. He has always been a good speller. Unfortunately, it doesn't rank up there with football skills in the world of fifth grade boys, so it doesn't improve his social standing any, but he is a hero in our nerdy little world and he loves it. I think we'll be renting Akeelah and the Bee again to get him pumped up this weekend.

The things we pass on to our children.


Dan said...

Congrats on your published column. Unbelievable that all of that was in a second grader's lunch! Yikes!

Whatever happened to PB&J, a few chips in bag from home and carrots and an apple?

alison said...

That lunch is really unbelievable.

Keane said...

Excellent post. The recent beef recall (and how much of the recalled beef was in school lunches) has been causing me to recall all the unhealthy lunches I ate as a child: nachos, salisbury steaks, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, etc... I wouldn't eat those as an adult. It's sick to stuff it in our children's mouths.

Great post!