By: Amelia Dibert—(grade 10)—
Recently, controversy struck the Tussey Mountain High School PRIDE program. The PRIDE team introduced a new component to the system rewarding positive behavior among students, but one of the deciding factors sparked concern in some people. Parents questioned the requirement that called for students to have paid off lunch debts from last year, calling it “lunch shaming” for said students.
The VIP program debuted after the PRIDE team attended their yearly conference in Hershey and took notice of other schools which had created a similar program. “The thought process behind the VIP program was that [Tussey Mountain has] a lot of kids [who] do the right thing every day, all the time, but they weren’t getting enough [PRIDE] tickets because they never stood out…. We wanted to create a program to reward those kids [who] just weren’t getting many tickets,” said PRIDE adviser, Robert Hummel. The four pillars of the VIP program are: no grades below a C, no office referrals for discipline, no overdue library books and no lunch debt. Some parents suspected that the use of a student’s lunch balance against them was a form of stigmatization referred to as lunch shaming.
As defined by the American Bar Association, lunch shaming is “the overt identification and stigmatization of any student who does not have money to buy a school meal.” The criteria the PRIDE team incentivized did not point out any specific students publicly in their attempt to lessen the cafeteria’s financial burden. The lunch debt was only one factor out of four which determined entry into the VIP program. According to PRIDE member Tiah Masood, “It was not the goal to exclude anyone. [The PRIDE team was] just trying to incentivise the students [who] were doing the right thing” with their school responsibilities. VIP incorporated the lunch balance requirement to follow suit with other schools that run a similar program. “A lot of other schools had put it in there, and they had seen an enormous drop in their negative accounts for the cafeteria,” said Robert Hummel when asked how the criteria was chosen.
Both students who were and were not in the program had no complaints with the program’s criteria, saying that none of the requirements felt inappropriate because the program was put into place to promote positive behavior. Maranda Mutzabaugh, who was not a member of the VIP program, said in response to the requirements, “it’s perfectly equal. It’s the same thing for sports. If you flunk out of classes, you’re benched.” Aside from a handful of concerned parents at the board meeting on September 17, 2019, most student responses to the initial implementation of the VIP program were positive, if not neutral.
Since the disbandment of the VIP program, plans to introduce a similar program are being discussed, and there’s a chance a new project will be implemented in its place. After a thorough evaluation, the revised criteria will create a rebranded program.