It all started with a cheesy breadstick
By Holly Martin
It used to be that protests were waged by people burning underwear or lying in the street. Today, protests have taken to You Tube. And when they do, they have much more impact than the 30 seconds it takes to burn a bra.
A perfect example is the "We Are Hungry" video by a group of students and teachers in Sharon Springs, Kan. The video is a parody of "We Are Young" and questions the new school lunch guidelines that cap the amount of protein students can eat.
The video has taken off. I was one of the first to watch it. I wish I had written down the number of views it had then but it was less than 100. As I write this, the number of views is a quarter of a million.
Let me be clear. Sharon Springs is a town of 750 people. When you live two hours from the nearest department store, it might be easy for these kids and teachers to think that nothing they could say matters. Instead, they banded together with a mission.
It all started the day the "Ms. K" posted a picture of her lunch on Facebook. Brenda Kirkham is the art and publications teacher. The only protein on her plate was some cheese stuffed inside a breadstick. It just didn't seem right.
Already, students--particularly student athletes--were complaining that they were hungry by the end of the school day. They were tired and not ready to learn. Nor did they have enough energy for after-school sports.
"We just didn't have enough fuel," Callahan Grund told me. He's the main character in the video and a football player. Consequently, his mother has been sending him more protein-packed lunches to get him through the day.
Kirkham is the girls' track coach and has experience working with sports teams in college. She knows that student athletes require 2,000 to 5,000 calories per day. Under the new school lunch guidelines, high school students are limited to 750 to 850 calories. So Kirkham decided something needed to be done. Kirkham teamed up with Linda O'Connor, the English teacher, who wrote lyrics. The students got on board and it became nearly a district-wide project. "We just wanted to get the word out about it," Grace Hammer, another student, told me.
"We wanted to give the kids a voice," Kirkham said. "They are the ones really affected by it."
But video has taken on a life of its own. Just before I interviewed the teachers, CBS and NBC aired stories on their morning shows. During our interview, "20/20" called. So did ABC.
The two told me as they finished their video they joked about it becoming as big as the Peterson brothers' hit, "Farming and I Grow It."
"We looked at each other, laughed and hit 'upload,'" O'Conner said. But the stories have grown far and wide, even hitting a paper in England.
Many of the stories have been good. Others have skipped over some important details, and that can be frustrating. Some even suggested all the students needed was a snack or to go back for another serving of vegetables.
But that's not the answer in my mind. A calorie is not a calorie. We know that protein and fat calories are brain food. Read any study on brain development and it tells us, protein is power. I may be mistaken, but I thought the mission of schools was to develop a student's brain, not restrict its development.
The problem comes when government tries to paint with a very wide brush. The body needs a diet based on the activities of the child.
"Some of these kids have a couple hours of sports practice and then go home for another hour of chores on the farm," Kirkham said.
And that's just it. Some kids don't do that. They go home after school to video games and Ding Dongs. We know the childhood obesity is a problem, but it goes way beyond what our students are getting to eat in school.
It's almost like a replay of No Child Left Behind, where kids who excel are held back to focus on the problem students. Today it is, let's limit calories of everyone because a few students need to be healthier.
I commend the Sharon Springs school district, teachers, parents and students for recognizing the need to speak out, finding great way to do it and for raising awareness of this important issue.
Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171 ext. 1806, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.