About those changes in school breakfasts
For me, the Janesville School District’s change from volunteer breakfast clubs to a federally funded program at elementary schools hits close to home. I thought helping my church, St. John Vianney, in the one-week-a-month rotation at Roosevelt School would be a volunteer role I could serve without it ever becoming so controversial that I’d have to write an editorial about it. Oh, how wrong I was.
The district announced the change in the last few days, effective Jan. 28. I’ve heard plenty of critical comments since then from volunteers, many of whom are upset about being pushed aside.
I can see what the district is doing. It’s hoping to tap available federal money to serve all elementary schools throughout the district at no direct cost to students.
Yet the district is dismantling a system of volunteers who have poured their hearts and souls, time and money into a program that at some schools has existed for more than two decades.
I believe I started serving at Roosevelt when my son was in third grade there. He’s now 29. I’ve seen many things in my roughly 20 years of helping. I’ll never forget the boy named Greg who got a kick out of having the same first name as me, and thus would yell, “Hi, Greg,” with a grin every time he came. I once saw him sitting in a chair at Boston Store as his mother tried on cosmetics, and I snuck up behind him and asked what cosmetics he was trying on, embarrassing him.
I remember the little girl who once came in and quietly asked me, “Do cows have soft udders?”
“Do cows have soft udders?”
“Well, um, yes they do. Why did you want to know?”
“Well, we’re taking a field trip to a farm today, and someone told me cows have soft udders.”
"Oh," I said. "Well, yes, they do have soft udders."
The next day, I saw her standing by the door, hesitant to step in and join us for breakfast. I asked her what was wrong.
“Well, we visited the farm yesterday.”
“Well, I might have cow poop on my shoes.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” I chuckled. “Come on in.”
Roosevelt has had great groups of students in recent years. I can remember the time I wound up in the principal’s office the last day of the school year, however, scanning a yearbook to identify students involved in a mostly verbal dustup during that day’s breakfast.
But I can also remember the many children who looked disheveled, emotionally troubled, and in need of smiles and someone to talk to them.
These are the children I hope many of the volunteers remember and continue helping as role models, as the district hopes.
Yet my fear is that without the need for whole groups, who build camaraderie and even friendships with fellow parishioners through setup, serving the kids and cleanup, too few will continue to commit to doing what the district wants.
I know my volunteer time has been squeezed as work demands expanded in recent years. I’m not sure I’ll continue visiting Roosevelt like I did. I’ll miss my fellow parishioners, some of whom I’ve become friends with. In fact, I might never have met one of my best friends had it not been for this program. My wife has been helping, too, since she retired a year ago.
OK, so I wrote the editorial we’ll be printing Sunday. Should I have? Did I get too close to the program for objectivity? Should I have deferred and let Editor Scott Angus write it instead? We discussed that possibility, but in the end, I wrote it. I think having served the program has afforded me insight and perspective that’s rare in a new editorial topic that comes at me each day.