Katie was in trouble, and I mean BIG trouble. She was such a sweet and caring kid; I just couldn’t imagine what she had done to make her mom so angry. A third-grade teacher always dreams of having a classroom filled with Katies.
She worked hard, loved learning, did her homework, had concerned and active parents, was attentive and a risk taker. And she was never, ever a discipline problem.
So when I received a phone call one evening, I was surprised. Katie’s mom was not the type to overreact to situations, and she said she needed my help. It seemed that Katie had been running up sizable charges in the lunchroom. Her mother and father explained that she did not have permission to be buying snacks at school. She brought a great homemade lunch each day, and there was no reason for her to be charging extra items. They assumed a sit-down with Katie would solve the problem.
It always had in the past. But when they got another bill from the school cafeteria the following month, her mom and dad became very concerned. It was so unlike Katie to purposefully misbehave, and it was totally out of character for her to ignore her parents.
It was at this point that her parents asked me if I could help them get to the bottom of this situation. I told them that I would try to find out what was going on and would be in contact with them by the end of the week. When I went to the cafeteria to inquire about Katie’s charges, the lady told me that Katie charged a lunch every day and took the tray to her table and ate it. This made no sense at all. I had seen the lunches Katie brought and had thought to myself that I wouldn’t mind if her mom packed me a lunch once in a while.
There was no way that Katie would prefer to eat the school lunch. Hey, nothing against school lunches, but really! I asked Katie to stay in for recess the next day, hoping to solve the mystery. I had a few theories of what might be happening, but I planned on letting her tell me the story in her own time. She was a rock. She wouldn’t crack.
I couldn’t believe it! There was no way Katie could ignore the stern manner I took with her … but she did. I have a pretty good “disappointed teacher” look, but it had no effect on her.”Why are you charging lunches, Katie?”‘ asked.
“Because I need to eat lunch,” she responded.
“What happens to the lunch your mother makes for you every morning?” I countered, sure that I had her with this one.
“I lose it,” she responded, matter-of-factly.
“You lose it?” I asked incredulously.
“Yup, I lose it”
“Every day?” I asked.
I leaned back in my chair, fixed her with my sternest gaze and said, “I don’t believe you, Katie:’
She didn’t care. Well, as upset as it made me be ignored, there was something about all this, something that just didn’t fit. So, I tried a different tack. In my most understanding and concerned voice, I asked, “Is someone stealing your lunch, Katie? Is that what is happening?”
“Nope,” she said in a tight-lipped sort of way.
“Katie, if someone is bullying you and stealing your lunch, I can help” I really thought I was on the right track with this theory.
“No one is stealing my lunch, Mr. D. I just lose it.” Well, she had me. There was nothing else I could do. Schools have a law that a student with no lunch must be provided with a lunch. The family is to be billed for the lunch unless they qualify for a free or reduced lunch. There was no way Katie’s family qualified for free lunch, so they would have to pay the charges as long as Katie asked for a lunch.
I called her parents on Friday night. We talked about the whole situation, bouncing different theories off one another, but nothing made sense.
The problem was still unresolved the next week when I noticed a boy who was new to the school sitting alone at a lunch table. Other kids had not warmed up to him very quickly, and he always looked sad. I thought I would go and sit with him for a few minutes. As I walked toward him, I noticed the lunch bag on the table in front of him. The name on the bag said “Katie.”
He was munching away on a big, delicious, homemade sandwich. Now I understood. I talked to Katie that afternoon. It seemed the new boy never brought a lunch, and he wouldn’t go to the lunch line for a free lunch. He had confided in Katie and asked her not to tell anyone – that his parents would never take a “handout” from the school. And if he did charge a lunch, he got in a lot of trouble at home. Katie asked me not to tell her parents.
But I did. I told her. In fact, I drove to Katie’s house that evening after I was sure that she was in bed. I have never seen parents so proud of their child. Katie didn’t care that her parents had grounded her. She didn’t care that I was disappointed in her. She didn’t care about any of these things as much as she cared about a little boy who was hungry and scared and keeping his embarrassment a secret.
Katie still buys lunch every day at school. And every day, as she heads out the door, her mom hands her a delicious homemade lunch.
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