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Table for Two? Veteran BPS teacher Michael Maguire sets the table for change

Every day, teachers, paraprofessionals, and other school support staff do all they can to provide students (and each other) with information and support that will sustain and strengthen them as they prepare for life’s challenges and opportunities. Unfortunately, while districts like Salem (see October/November 2017 issue) are encouraging and involving the students in sustainable and educational nutritional programs, many schools do not provide the sustenance and support that young minds and bodies require.

Veteran teacher and AFT MA Executive Board member Michael Maguire has taken it upon himself to find out why so many school meals are not giving students and staff what they need by inviting school and community leaders to share a school lunch with him. Maguire also invites anyone who wishes to follow the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram handle #BPSLunchDate.

When asked where the idea began, Maguire explains that since he is also a parent of BPS students, he has experienced first-hand what students feel like at the end of a hard day of learning.

“I noticed that my children were ‘hangry,’” he says, noting the familiar combination of “hungry” and “angry.”

If his own children were hangry, Maguire figured that other BPS students would be too.  He decided to act.

A firm believer in leading by example, Maguire decided not only to eat in the cafeteria himself, but to invite others to do so as well.

“I think that the leaders of the schools should endure the same conditions as the students,” he suggests. “Truly, it is the only way to improve our students’ situations.”

On January 5, 2017, Maguire sent an “old-fashioned letter” to Boston City Hall and also to BPS headquarters proposing that, as the people there are ostensibly invested in the goings on in Boston’s schools, they come to see and experience what is going on in the school buildings.

“I asked [them] to walk a mile in the students’ shoes,” Maguire says. “I started out with the bold proposal that the cafeterias at both the Bolling Building and City Hall serve the exact same BPS students get.” Maguire also suggested that all functions at the two venues use the same prepared meals that students get and that all lunch breaks be kept on the same 18-minute schedule that students ostensibly enjoy.

Receiving no reply to his letter, Maguire emailed over 20 more civic leaders on January 8 to ask them for their thoughts on the school lunch program. Maguire also began a bold lobbying campaign on Twitter to encourage Boston Chief of Education Turahn Dorsey to join him for a meal. 

The meal with Dorsey was held on January 17 in the cafeteria at Boston Latin Academy, where Maguire has been teaching for 24 years. Though Maguire is “appreciative” for the “wonderful conversation” he had with Dorsey, he is not sure if either of them were as appreciative of the meal itself.

“When that day arrived,” Maguire explains, “we stood in the same lines as the students, ate the same food, and left the cafeteria when the students did.”  Maguire explains, noting that, in the process of investigating what the kids eat, he found that many do not, as the food is unappetizing or the lines too long for them to get their food and have time to eat it, let alone enjoy it.

“I asked [a] student why he hadn’t started his meal, let alone finish it,” Maguire recalls. “He said the line to get the food was long and slow moving.  The next day I observed the length of the students’ lines- They were 55 deep!”

Two days later, Boston City Council President Michelle Wu agreed to meet Maguire for lunch. Maguire even received a timely reply from the office of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, but ultimately their schedules did not cooperate. A bit later, Maguire had the pleasure of dining with City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, who is a former BPS teacher (see December, 2015 issue).

“After I was elected,”Essaibi-George says, “I knew one thing I needed to do was to go...have lunch with Michael Maguire. He has been and continues to be an advocate for feeding our kids good, substantial meals at school.”

After her meal with Maguire, Essaibi-George said her “biggest  takeaway” was that the portions were “too small.”

“I think of my growing boys preparing for high school,” she says, “and it just wasn’t enough food!’

Maguire also sat down with former City Councilor Tito Jackson, as well as Boston School Committee (BSC) members Michael Loconto and Jeri Robinson. Boston Superintendent Tommy Chang also agreed to a meeting, but again scheduling conspired against them.

“At my lunch with Tito,” Maguire recalls, “I showed him what students in Newton eat and compared it to what our students are served.”  They both agreed Boston could do better.

By the end of April, the Boston Parents Council had sent a letter to the Mayor asking about the vendors who were supplying BPS with food. “I learned that the Council had been lobbying for better food long before I entered the scene,” Maguire explains. “We then worked together.”

As the school year wound down, Maguire’s meal movement continued to heat up. On May 12, he testified at the BSC about school lunch. Four days later, he was joined for lunch by Representative Ed Coppinger. The next day, Senator Michael Rush agreed to a lunch date. On May 22, Governor Charlie Baker’s office also agreed to try to find a suitable date for lunch.

“All our efforts paid off.” Maguire observes, noting how, over the summer, BPS awarded a new food contract to Revolution Foods. The BPS also increased the budget allotted to pay for student meals, which will allow students to enjoy more nutritious, and admittedly more expensive, foods.

“My mantra through all of this was that, just as BPS has a responsibility to nourish the minds of Boston’s youth,” Maguire maintains, “so too must it nourish their bodies. “

While student focus is key to any such campaign, Maguire advises, he also has other tips for those who might want to make change in the system.

“Have a single purpose,” he says, “be polite and positive, use pictures on social media, and create a catchy hashtag.” ▪

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