Thursday, November 19, 2015

Unthankful


I am a mother of a student at Apache Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District. Over the years, I've been involved with the school and the students. When my daughter was in kindergarten, I volunteered weekly as the Reading Helper for her class. In first grade, I was the Mystery Reader. Each year I've volunteered as a room parent during school parties and other events. Just this year, I volunteered to work for the PTA during Family Science Night and for the school librarian during the Scholastic Book Fair. Each year, my family has purchased books from the book fair to donate to my daughter's teachers. This year, I'm proud to say, my fourth grader and a friend of hers took it upon themselves to spend their own money to purchase books from the fair for their teacher. Here's the thank you we received from her teacher:
"For a 4th grader to think so selflessly and use her money for someone else is amazing. She is such a special girl and has a huge heart. Thank you for sharing her with me, she always seems to brighten my day!"
For the most part, my daughter loves her teachers, her peers, and the education she's receiving from the school. She was nominated by her teacher last year, in third grade, to be on Student Council. She made the all-A honor roll during the first quarter of this year, and she recently joined a team to compete in the Battle of the Books program.

On the surface, my concern is not about academics. I've been pleased with what the district does with the too-often inadequate budget they receive. What I'd like to see the district improve is this: the students need more time allotted for lunch.

What a silly thing to complain about, right? Wrong. In order to perform their best, students need time to eat a healthy lunch each day. Their growing bodies and brains need adequate fuel to maintain their rigorous academic schedules. Emotionally and socially, kids thrive when they are properly fed. I get cranky when I haven't had enough to eat. Multiply that by 25 kids in a classroom and you've got a big behavior problem.

The kids at my daughter's elementary school get 30 minutes for their lunch period. That sounds decent. But keep in mind, those thirty minutes are not spent eating. Most of their time is spent waiting to get in line and then standing in line for their meal (10-20 minutes,) and cleaning up and waiting in line to head back to class (5 minutes.) This gives students 15 minutes to eat their meal, on a good day. On a day like today, when I joined my daughter and her classmates for their Thanksgiving Meal, not only did the cafeteria run out of turkey by the time we were served (even though had I contacted them ahead of time to let them know that I was coming to this event,) but by the time we sat down to eat our Thanksgiving Meal (chicken nuggets) we had five minutes left to eat. FIVE minutes before the lunchroom attendant forced us to get up from the table and dump whatever food was left uneaten on our trays (at least half of it) into the garbage.

When I complained that we didn't have enough time to eat, the kids at my daughter's table all said, "It's like this every day!"

Today was certainly a busy day for the cafeteria staff. I understand. Serving students and extra guests takes extra time. But I've had many meals in the school cafeteria with my daughter over the years, and not always on holidays. Each time it's been hectic and rushed, giving us only ten or fifteen minutes to eat, and each time I've thought about complaining to someone in charge, but I never wanted to make a fuss. Today, when we only had five minutes to eat, I changed my mind. I decided that our kids deserve for us to make a fuss over them.

Not only is five to fifteen minutes not enough time to eat a meal, it's a big waste of money. Mostly taxpayer dollars. Seventy-percent of the students at my daughter's school receive free or reduced priced meals. They are called "free" or "reduced price," but they are not actually "free" or "reduced price." They are paid for by tax dollars. Money collected from my paycheck. And gladly so. I think our free and reduced priced lunch program is one of the best services we can give public school students. Like I said, it's difficult, if not impossible, to be a productive member of society if you are hungry. I gladly pay my taxes so that kids have enough to eat.

They have enough to eat. They do not have enough time to eat.

My daughter is lucky. Our family is financially stable enough that I can send her to school with a sack lunch. Then, instead of waiting to get in line and then standing in line for her meal (10-20 minutes,) she can just sit right down and start eating her sack lunch. All she has to worry about is the five minutes at the end of the lunch period reserved for cleaning up and waiting in line to head back to class. Having twenty-five minutes to eat lunch is adequate. Anything less is a grave disservice to our kids. Especially those seventy-percent of kids who rely on the free and reduced price lunch program to achieve their nutritional needs.

Today, as we were dismissed from our Thanksgiving Meal, instead of feeling thankful, I felt sick to my stomach as I watched hungry children dump half of their meals into the trash.

Our kids deserve better. Please, join me in asking the Shawnee Mission School Board of Education, the superintendent, and the school principal to extend the time students are allowed to eat lunch. Here is the petition I created:

Give Shawnee Mission School Kids More Time to Eat Lunch

***Update, 4:09PM***

I spoke with the school principal. She assured me that the kids are supposed to have enough time to finish their meal, and if for some reason they don't have time, they can take their tray to the classroom with them. I've instructed my daughter to let me know if in the future she and her classmates are not given adequate time to finish their meal.

Thanks to Principal Griffith for her quick response and encouraging words.