"If you want your kids to eat, have them bring a bag lunch," offers the principal of H middle school–- then pauses, as we all stare at him.
"Look, we've got over 250 sixth graders comin' into the cafeteria and only two lunch lines-- and they move real slow. There's just too many choices.
"Though," he says with a laugh, "most of the kids end up eating three slices of pizza or a pile of french fries. But again, that's if they get up there. I know. I did it once-- stood in line just like the kids -- and even movin' quick, I had only like four minutes to
eat . . . "
Scanning the crowded room, I see a hint of my growing anxiety mirrored in the faces of its occupants-- parents, like me, who've come here to learn more about the middle schools in our area.
To listen to three principals talk about the merits of their schools.
" . . . we used to have a lot of dances, but not anymore," he continues, "the kids just take advantage-- they're smackin' up against each other.
"We set up games-- you know, like air hockey -- and they like those, but," he says, casting a big, dopey grin around the room, "ya' add music and a disco ball and somethin' happens."
"Excuse me," calls out a mom with a tentatively raised hand, "my son transferred into his elementary school -- we live in another district -- I'm assuming he'll go to H middle school with his classmates since- "
"We stopped taking transfers this year."
"But all of his elementary school friends will be going to H middle school," she tells him in a voice edged with panic.
"Nope. No transfers-- no exceptions," he responds in a dismissive tone.
I begin to squirm.
The speaker is the principal of our district's middle school-- where Joseph and the majority of his neighborhood friends will go next year.
On my way to this meeting, I was feeling hopeful-- though it's a big school (800 kids, total) with very little ethnic diversity (unlike Joseph's elementary school), I'd heard great things about its teachers and academic programs.
But right now, I want to cry.
I'm just so damned tired of it.
Tired of people like Joseph's current principal-- who didn't want a classmate to go with him to the nurse's office when he was low because getting help (if say, Joseph should pass out) was "too much responsibility" for the other student.
At the same time, she didn't want Joseph to test his blood sugars in the classroom for fear of the "sharps."
It took over a year-- and a lot of skirting around that principal -- to get the nursing staff, teachers, bus attendants, and cafeteria workers completely on board with what needed to happen for Joseph to be safe at school.
And now, I'm sitting here listening to this man with his confident smirk.
Thinking about all of those new teachers, new staff.
So many more kids...
And already, I'm exhausted.