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School uses lunch line to punish kids for bad grades

Woodrow Wilson Middle School has found a creative way to offer incentive for good grades and appropriate conduct during school hours, but many parents are taking issue with the approach.

The Tampa, Florida, middle school has been offering high-achieving students a prime position in the front of the school lunch line, while students with a C or lower are made to wait for their lunch — at the back of the line. Kids who are not doing well at Woodrow Wilson Middle School are being called “no-card” kids, and every single one of their classmates knows exactly why they are standing at the back of the lunch line, according to the reports of a student at the school.

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One Woodrow Wilson Middle School parent, Sonya Brown, is speaking out against the program. In a Fox 13 interview, she shared that she strongly believed in rewarding kids for doing well in school and following school policies, but she really feels the lunch line incentive is crossing a line. According to Brown, many of the students near the end of the lunch line are from low socioeconomic status.

“Everyone knows that they’re in line because they got a C,” one student told Fox 13. “It’s not private at all. And it’s really embarrassing for them, I think.”

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Although the middle school principal reported she had received only two complaints about the school’s lunch line incentive program, a survey seems to suggest that more people are taking issue with its approach. And the school has responded by suspending the program.

It’s about time.

Being publicly shamed for their poor performance doesn’t offer a solution for kids who are struggling in school. If many of these kids are truly from low socioeconomic backgrounds, some of the factors influencing their performance are beyond their control. Research has proven time and time again how important parental involvement, an adequate diet and having their health care needs met are to performance in school — and one or all of these things could be missing from the lives of children from impoverished households.

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In addition to shaming students who are struggling in school, there is also the issue of offering food as a reward or punishment for behavior. Living in a country known for childhood obesity and unhealthy eating habits, the last thing schools should be doing is further damaging the relationship children have with food. When food is seen as a reward for good behavior or is withheld for poor academic performance, it hurts healthy eating habits and maybe even encourages students to reward themselves when they are not hungry, according to research by the University of Rochester.

As for replacing the recently discontinued incentive program, we suggest a different type of reward. Perhaps when the school shares academic achievement with parents, they could suggest individual rewards for high achievement, such as a movie night, a special night out or having a friend over to stay the night.

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