During registration this fall, our high school began issuing chrome books to every student for the first time. My own high schooler posted on Instagram that he couldn’t believe the school was paying for THAT when their auditorium seats are in such awful shape. First of all, he’s right in pointing out some differences. Like most high schools, our football and basketball teams are well funded but the theater kids don’t get that much love. So in his mind, the disparity was between giving everyone a chrome book or put that money to good use so that the auditorium could get an update.
I let him stew about it for a while because I know it’s frustrating to see how certain groups at school get more money and attention than others. But then I asked him to stop for a moment and acknowledge that he has always had access to a computer at home. I asked him to remember that we are paying for WiFi not just so he can post on IG and Snapchat, but so that he can do homework at home rather than go to the library or stay after school. To be fair, this kid is much more aware of his privilege than I ever was at his age. And, we are all learning.
Which brings me to another thought: Recently I got into a conversation on Facebook over food as a reward at schools. One friend who works in a school that is highly represented by students of low income, wants to eliminate food rewards and birthday treats.
I can imagine the eye rolls and indignation from many elementary school parents in my area if such a rule was enforced. And, a few years ago, I would have been one of those parents. Just like my son, I would have pinned it on silly over the top rules made by our school or our school district without a true understanding as to why such a rule would be in place.
Without being too specific, because my children’s stories are not mine to tell, I have two kids in particular that for them, food is a source of great anxiety. Imagine your first years of life living in a place where you felt it necessary to guard your food. When, maybe you didn’t necessarily go hungry, but there wasn’t any extra to go around. Where you didn’t get any choice as to what, when or how much you ate. When you didn’t get to choose the flavor of your birthday cake (because you didn’t get one anyway).
Imagine other kids in our community, kids who may be living from one apartment to the next, who may be getting food from our local food pantries and getting free breakfast and lunch at school. Imagine not being sure if there would be dinner that night or where they were spending the night. Imagine, if you will, having no control or say in daily life.
Now, imagine having this experience and going to school and being told that someone was going to bring a treat that day. They may think, “I wonder what it is. When will we get it? How much will there be? Do you think there will be extra?” And maybe in all of that, a worry that they will still be hungry after that treat. Because there is always, always a worry of being hungry.
For those of us living in secure homes, this would never occur to us. But for kids who have had to fight for their own survival, having something out of the ordinary, something that is supposed to be fun can be enough to ruin their day. In addition, there are food allergies that can stand in the way of inclusion. I have heard many sad stories about kids who do not get to share in the fun because they cannot eat the birthday treat at school.
Now, having said that, I have always sent birthday treats to school (but I’m rethinking it now). I have also been known to take a Happy Meal to the birthday child and have him eat it in the lunchroom in front of everyone else. In my mind, it was a way to make their day special, but maybe there are other ways to celebrate a kid on their day that doesn’t involve food? And, maybe there are other ways to reward a kid than by giving them treats?
I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer here. Rather, I’m hoping this is an opportunity for those around me to consider other points of view. Maybe by reading this, you choose to bring fun stickers, or another non-food birthday treat. Maybe, if you have kids in school you ask their teacher about how they reward students and how you can support non-food rewards. It may be a small thing, but it is another way to be inclusive to all so that their learning community can be the best it can be.