Tivoli students boycott school lunch after learning concept in history class
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EXAMPLE MENU at Austwell-Tivoli Junior High School
Monday: Fish sticks, buttered noodles, cooked, broccoli and fruit
Tues: Salisbury steak, mashed pot, green beans, fruit
Wed: Chili and beans, rice and corn, and crackers, fruit
Thurs: BBQ on bun, salad, ranch style beans pickle slices and fruit
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Seventh-graders at Austwell-Tivoli Junior High School were writing vocabulary words in their Texas history class when they came across a term that struck them: boycott.
Mckenzi Simmons, president of the seventh-grade class, said she had never heard the word before. But at that Friday's class meeting, students began talking. Soon, they came up with an idea that would merge what they were learning in the classroom with a long-held conviction.
It was decided. On Tuesday, the approximately 32 junior high students would boycott school lunch.
"We wanted more choice in what was served, as there was a lot of repetition in what was going on. All we wanted was for our voice to be heard and a chance at change," said Mckenzi, 12.
Mckenzi said the whole junior high showed up to school Tuesday with their own lunches. They did the same on Wednesday - and the rest of the week. She said her class was determined to be respectful with their boycott, which they saw garner the best reaction from the staff.
Superintendent Antonio Aguirre said when he heard about the boycott, his first inclination was to defend his school. He said the lunches are adequate and provide a variety of meals for students. Aguirre also provided two weeks worth of varied lunch entrees, a cycle he said may be repeated with additions on occasion.
The menus are based on policy set by the Texas Department of Agriculture, whose rules spell out specific nutritional guidelines for things such as fruits and vegetables, portion sizes and fried foods.
"We take care of our kids," he said.
But Aguirre also said he'd be a hypocrite if he condemned the students for taking "power of their own learning."
"Kids will say, 'When am I ever going to use this stuff?'" he said about some classrooms. "Maybe those girls are our leaders of tomorrow. Somebody has to jump up and do something different."
On Wednesday, Mckenzi and the class vice president sent a letter to their principal, Stephen Maldonado, on behalf of their class, calling for less repetition in lunches and a choice of a salad.
That same day, another letter she sent to the principal emphasized their stance.
"We have tried other solutions before. However, seeing as there has been no change or consideration, we have come to this option. Once again, if we have hurt anyone's feelings we are sincerely sorry, as it was unintentional," the letter read.
The Austwell-Tivoli school district is one of the few in the state that offers a free lunch for students and staff, Aguirre said. The free lunches are provided to the area because a large portion of the district is deemed low-income by the state.
Mckenzi's mother, Leslie Simmons, said she knew families couldn't afford students to boycott for a long time.
"For a lot of kids at the school, that's their meal of the day. They don't get to go home and have a hot meal like my kids do," said Simmons, 38.
But she's proud of her daughter and her classmates for banding together.
"Here we are teaching her to stand up for herself and take care of herself," Simmons said.
Mckenzi said the boycott was a fun learning experience for her and her classmates, who have been learning about African-American leaders during Black History Month.
And the students seem to think their demands have at least been heard. The boycott will cease Monday.
"It went pretty well (on Friday) because they asked us what food we didn't like and what food we'd like to see more of," Mckenzi said. "They're starting to make some changes, so we're going to lay off and see what happens."