5,800 Pennies for Thought

If you happen to feel that the penny is not a very useful coin, a group of 29 students at Readington Middle School in New Jersey would certainly beg to differ with you. The article entitled Students Punished After Buying Lunch With Pennies intrigued me, so I decided to give it a read. The best way state my feelings upon finishing the article is "I have thoughts."

To summarize the events that warranted national press coverage, a group of 29 eighth grade students paid for their $2.00 lunches in pennies to express displeasure with their shortened lunch period. As a result, the students were punished with two day detentions for slowing down the lunch line and disrespecting cafeteria workers.

School Superintendent Jorden Schiff said, "The students never raised concerns about the shortened lunch before. If they had, [I] would have worked with them," and "There are opportunities and avenues to raise concern." In addition, according to Superintendent Schiff, this incident was a prank and not a protest as some news reports called it. After the media coverage, Superintendent Schiff pardoned the students and rescinded their punishment.

As a quick reminder, I have taught seventh grade and am therefore somewhat familiar with the curious and often puzzling creature known as the middle schooler. Anyone teaching, raising or living with a middle schooler will know that in testing, troubling times you must keep in mind the war and not the battle.

Now, my aforementioned thoughts:

1. Wow, I bet their government/history teachers are impressed with how these students use peaceful protest. What a teachable moment!

2. How short is their lunch? Given that most schools (elementary and jr/sr high) get about 20 minutes, I'd be upset if I lost a few more minutes too.

3. Disrespecting the lunch ladies? Does this Superintendent have any idea about what goes on in a middle school lunch room?

4. If said Superintendent is so concerned about maintaining law and order in his district, why on earth did he give in and take back a dealt punishment? BIG mistake.

5. No Superintendent that I know of or have heard of would have granted audience to a group of students (parents, eventually) to hear their complaints about lunch. Instead of punishing them, how about appointing the energetic and vocal students to an action group so they come up with alternatives and/or answers to the short lunch period problem? Use their passion for something positive.

6. How about some perspective? Graffiti, destruction of property, verbal assault, skipping school, school shootings, etc., that so often put schools in the news, and THIS incident warrants 2 days of punishment?

7. Wearing the "Got Pennies!" t-shirts was probably not the best idea.

So, you've heard what I think- I disagree with the way in which this prank/protest was handled. What do you think?