Staff Editorial – School lunch and NAAPID collide

According to the Saint Paul Public Schools website, National African American Parent Involvement Day (NAAPID) is “a day for parents to come to their child’s school, see what their day is like and to support their child’s educational future.” The goals for NAAPID are:

Promote parent involvement in their child’s education.

Address the serious achievement gap facing African American students.

Promote and provide strategies for parents and students to take full advantage of the educational process at all levels of the educational system (preschool through college).

Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort by the district in taking serious steps to address the educational predicaments that impact the African American community. I myself identify as an African American and am proud of my racial identity. I was adopted at an early age and raised by middle class white parents in a loving and stable household. I don’t face many of the challenges that my African American peers do, however I am not blind to the factors within the public school system that disproportionally have a negative impact on people of my race. Having things like NAAPID are a good step in the direction of eliminating the achievement gap for African American students.

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(Image Source: https://ns.spps.org/uploads/2013-2014_menus_dblue_3.pdf)

That said, there is something about NAAPID that is bothering me. When it comes to school lunch, Saint Paul Public Schools has three main menus. One for SPPS elementary schools, one for the middle schools, and one for the high schools. On Monday on secondary campuses, the items being served for lunch are as follows: BBQ Chicken Drumsticks, Corn Bread, Herb Roasted Potatoes, Chicken Corn Dog , Baked Beans, and other offerings. At middle schools, BBQ Chicken Drumsticks w/ Corn Bread is the only option, where at the high schools who have more food serving capacity, the chicken drumsticks is the “Daily Dish” option. On Monday’s calendar square on the menu, there is text on the side that says “African American Parent Involvement Day.” As soon as I found this out, I got an uneasy feeling. As many know, a common stereotype of African Americans, among other things, is that they have a love of chicken and other soul food items such as corn bread. Immediately upon finding this out, I did an analysis of SPPS lunch menus on both secondary and middle school campuses going back to September 2013 and found that this meal has never been served previously, specifically the items cornbread or BBQ chicken drumsticks. “Rotisserie drumsticks” are served often, however I have never seen nor do the menus indicate BBQ chicken ever having been served. As a student who purchases school lunch almost every day, I have no recollection of ever seeing cornbread being served as a meal option, nor BBQ chicken drumsticks.

What makes me wonder even more is the specific inclusion of “African American Parent Involvement Day” on the physical menu. Why place that on a lunch menu alongside food offerings that coincidentally align with common stereotypes of African Americans? May it have been intended or not, the mere thought of racial stereotypes being provoked is something that shouldn’t be happening. During my research for this article, I stumbled upon a very recent case regarding school lunch and Black History Month that happened at a school in California (bit.ly/1bu28DH). The school announced it was planning on serving fried chicken, cornbread, and watermelon at lunch to celebrate Black History Month. Understandably, members of the community stood up and spoke out and as a result, administration apologized and the school is planning on holding a diversity assembly to further address the issue.

My hope is that this either was an oversight by the SPPS Nutrition Department or something that was well intentioned to celebrate NAAPID, however not in my opinion aligning with the spirit of celebrating and promoting African American student achievement. I hope that in the future, the school district continues to recognize African American students in a positive and celebratory fashion without accidentally perpetuating cultural stereotypes.

James Farnsworth is a member of the Class of 2016 at Highland.

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