Should bad students eat lunch last? Here's what happened at the school that tried it

A middle school in Tampa, Florida, gave high-achieving students a spot at the front of the lunch line. Here's why that sparked debate.
Dec 20, 2015

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  • At Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Tampa, Florida, students know what's at stake based on their academic performance and conduct in the classroom: incentive cards that give them a better spot in the lunch line.

  • However, pressure from parents has forced administrators to drop the incentive.

  • Mom Sonya Brown said the system shames students and labels them, prompting her to start a petition to abandon it, Ken Suarez wrote for Fox 13 Tampa Bay.

  • More than 400 parents signed the petition. The administrators took notice, though they cited the cards as a factor in the school's academic excellence.

  • "I am pleased to say, in part, due to our academic incentive card program, Woodrow Wilson Middle School consistently ranks among the best middle schools, not only in the district, but in the state of Florida," Principal Colleen Faucett wrote in a letter to parents. "That being said, my team and I are always willing to adjust any of our programs for the benefit of our students."

  • Woodrow Wilson is slated to end the system Dec. 18, Fox 13 noted. The cards won't be in use anymore when kids return from winter break.

  • Still, the debate hasn't ceased: Did the program really shame kids and take a toll on their confidence, or did parents overreact?

  • Opponents of the lunch cards argue that, more than anything, the cards separated students of low-income families from their peers, creating a divide, Rachel Bertsche wrote for Yahoo Parenting.

  • "The lowest performing 'no card kids' are seen as less valuable and the highest performing children are publicly reminded of their superiority on a daily basis," one mom of a Woodrow Wilson Middle School student wrote on the petition, Yahoo Parenting reported. "The 'no card kids' are almost exclusively kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds who have little support at home ... How could an educator think that any motivation derived from shaming a child ... would somehow outweigh the harm?"

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  • In addition, most parents support some sort of incentive but say the lunch line method could stunt children's abilities to be successful in the classroom, the Palm Beach Post reported.

  • "No-card kids" often had 10 minutes to eat after waiting at the line's end, and Palm Beach Post wrote they didn't have enough time to refuel for classes later on.

  • However, Jonathan Constante wrote for Opposing Views, supporters indicated the card system is a long-running tradition at the school that has worked.

  • Incentives also help teachers get the most out of their students, Opposing Views quoted Faucett as saying.

  • "Incentives are crucial implements in every educator's toolbox," Faucett wrote in her statement. "The lunch line incentive has been part of Wilson for two decades and was in place when I arrived as principal five years ago."

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Payton Davis is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.

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