Supper at school

An article appeared in the paper a couple of weeks ago that continues to roll around in my mind and whenever I think about it, it really makes me feel sad.

I can hear someone saying, “Really?! There’s just the one article that left you depressed?”  No…and taken in the context of the truly horrible stuff that is reported in the papers, this article seems downright benign. But I found it disturbing nonetheless.

So what was the article? It was: “More students are being served dinner at school nationwide.” According to the article In the 2014 fiscal year, 104 million suppers were served to students, up from about 19 million in 2009.

The fact that elementary age students – many of whom also eat breakfast at school – are now eating all of their meals at school really tugs at my heart for several reasons.

There is something about a family coming together at the end of the day that is sacred. It’s not about mom cooking and serving meatloaf and mashed potatoes dressed in her pearls and shirtwaist dress ala June Cleaver. But it is about every member of the family sitting together, putting down their cell phones or video games, and looking one another in the eye – even if it’s just for 15 minutes and “dinner” is a bowl of Mini-Wheats.

And once again, schools have stepped in to meet a need that ideally should be provided by parents. Aren’t the basic necessities of life such as providing food and shelter for kids, the responsibility of their parents?

But I can also see the other side of the argument. What choice do many parents have except to rely on the school? No one would argue that even if a school has very nurturing after-school child care workers, a school environment is a very poor substitute for being home with parents and siblings. But if the parents work long hours and aren’t able to pick up their students by “dinnertime,” it’s better that the kids receive some nourishment rather than end the day famished.

I think the reason this topic depresses me is because it paints a very bleak picture of the way that family life looks for so many families. A 6 year-old spends 10 hours at school, eats some chicken nuggets in the multi-use room before being picked up by an exhausted mom or dad who once they arrive home, only has enough energy to zone out in front of the TV. The child retreats to their bedroom to play video games until they fall asleep.

How to bring families back together to strengthen the family structure and instill values and attitudes? I don’t know – it’s a huge question. But I don’t think serving dinner at school will help.

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