How a tuna fish sandwich became a Scarlet A; throwing away student’s food causes more problems
November 29, 2017
One of the new "background" news pieces that stations and newspapers have been covering recently talks about schools throughout the United States where the food is taken away from a student for being under balanced and the student is given an alternative meal option in its place.
Several news outlets have debated this new policy popping up in schools and responses have varied across the board.
If you are from Minnesota, you’ve likely heard the name Stewartville five hundred times on the local news.
I am a 2015 graduate of Stewartville High School and can easily summarize why this may, for Stewartville, be a worse move than previous policies.
If you’ve been to Stewartville, you are naturally going to say it’s either awful or quaint. There’s never been any in-between for Stewartville; it's just adults who weren’t raised there who are impressed with the school system and adults who were raised there or have heard of what happens there and do not drive within five miles of the place.
To understand Stewartville, Minnesota, you need to understand a fundamental part of its local economy: It is within 20 minutes of Rochester, Minnesota, where the Mayo Clinic’s main hospital is located. A large percentage of adults in Stewartville work for the Mayo Clinic in some capacity, apparently due to some housing agreement or something that went through the Mayo Clinic and nearby towns. I’m not fully sure because I am not the child of someone who works at the Mayo Clinic (more on that later).
Families who work for the Mayo Clinic receive a slew of benefits such as discounts all throughout Rochester and, in some jobs, free gym memberships. They also receive a lot of childcare resources in hopes that it will allow their employees to be more productive and less stressed.
I was a child before the time of Childcare center, I believe, but at that point there were about three day cares in Rochester where Mayo Clinic employees had a hefty discount.
Because of this, Mayo kids just kind of know each other pre-schooling, and the frequent events hosted by the Mayo Clinic just makes sure that they really know each other.
And if your parents do not work for the Mayo Clinic, they likely either work at IBM’s factory, the service industry or they farm.
And though as a child you can’t exactly put your finger on what makes people different at Stewartville, as an adult you realize that it is socioeconomic differences.
Bullying has been a problem at Stewartville for as long as anyone can remember, and though the teachers don’t go out and say, “Hey, you are going to be treated differently because of the large difference in society’s perception of your parent's job!” they know.
I’ve talked to a few of my high school teachers after I graduated since my best friend is dating one of their sons, and they are absolutely aware of this problem.
For Stewartville, bullying is just like this normal large thing that, once it starts will not stop until you graduate.
You might think that, wow you’re in the clear because you weren’t bullied for like a year. But out of nowhere you will get your face slammed into hard concrete and realize that you weren’t okay.
When I was a senior at Stewartville High school there were an absolute barrage of gun threats, to the point where students joked about adding guns to their senior mural.
Which is kinda just, wow.
But people were bullied, and nothing was really done, so one of them apparently wanted to kill himself in the bathroom.
Which would normally begin a story about how Stewartville high school came together and really cleaned up its act.
But it just lead to students being ticked due to the fact that a letter written by a student about being bullied led to us having to go to weekly educational meetings on not terrorizing students.
Which led to comments of, “Everyone wants to kill themselves here, he wasn’t special.”
Which I cannot deny because a lot of us went to Generose (a psychiatric building owned by the Mayo Clinic).
There’s always been a sort of pecking order at Stewartville, where Mayo kids can do a lot of things that they enjoy doing and terrorize other students. Then farm kids can kinda terrorize other students, and everyone else just sorta had to take it.
Because though it was never outwardly said, people knew whether they had more money than you.
“But Bethany,” you say, “You went there two years ago! How can you be so certain that this could still be a problem?”
I have a friend (a best friend) whose siblings go there still. She lives on this campus.
Also, I’m not dumb enough to believe that an area with a large class divide like Stewartville, Minnesota, could resolve its issues in two years.
But let me disclose: I am biased.
I did online school instead of going to Stewartville High School my freshman year, mainly because I got beaten up at a public pool the summer before and could hardly say the name Stewartville without crying. I went back to Stewartville my sophomore, junior and senior years. During that time, I still got beaten up and was often sent home to my mother because I was inconsolable.
My high school life would have been way better if I was just awesome at fighting.
I had the following exchange with a counselor hired by the school when I was a junior, and I often think about it:
Counselor: You know, several great people have been bullied, Bethany. This may feel like it, but I assure you that this is not the end of the world.
Me: A lot of people who have been bullied have also killed themselves.
Counselor: Are you planning to kill yourself?
Which just supports the idea that this administration knew there was a problem and just didn’t do anything about it.
Also, she gave me a book called "Queen Bees and Wannabes," which she said might really ground my situation? My mother was absolutely furious because she felt that actually confronting students about bullying her child might have worked better.
Also, not as good of a book as it sounds.
I think of all that - just the fact that bullying has been such a problem for Stewartville High School in the past and how much of it stems from the fact that people think less of you if your parents don’t work for the Mayo Clinic - and I just feel horrible.
Because they are throwing away kids’ lunches in an environment in which students have tried to kill themselves in the bathrooms.
I think about being told that I “ain’t worth nothing,” and the way that they would describe my mother as "just an immigrant" (pronounced closer to the word ingrate, to really rub the salt in the wound) that was trying to take “everything that wasn’t hers.”
And I think about how much worse it would have been if they had thrown my lunch in a bucket and replaced it with either a tuna sandwich or a PB&J.
Because nothing helps bullying more in an environment of class divide than really making sure that someone has a visible symbol of poverty.
The saddest part is that it’s not the Mayo Clinic’s fault.
The Mayo Clinic provides benefits for its employees that really are amazing and great, and you can tell they care about these people.
It’s the choice of students to take advantage of these benefits and the social net they create in ways that harm others.
It’s the choice of administration to do nothing when teachers send said students to the office for calling others names.
Administration makes the active decision to look at a student who has decided to tell another that, “Your hair is too puffy, and your nose looks like a penis, Lovejoy.” And do nothing.
The administration made the choice to make a tuna sandwich a scarlet letter.
Maybe this would work somewhere else. Maybe students wouldn’t treat others like a second-class citizen.
But as I imagine how it would feel to have my lunch thrown away and what students would do in reaction, I think about sitting in that office waiting for my mother to come pick me up; Crying about things that couldn’t be fixed today and wouldn’t change tomorrow.