Protests outside schools have been common in the last few years, generally over topics such as gun violence and COVID-19 restrictions.
However, Sierra Vista K-8 held a protest last week on a much more upbeat subject: the lack of chocolate milk available in the school cafeteria.
Students who were upset about not having an alternative to regular milk carried signs, chanted slogans and even were able to get a compromise from the district: Chocolate milk will be provided one day every other week.
The protest was covered locally on KCRA 3 and broadcast on NBC and CBS affiliates across the country. It even made it to Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue.
“This is where Gandhi and Sonny the ‘Cuckcoo for Cocoa Puffs’ bird intersect right here,” Kimmel quipped.
It all stemmed from a lesson on developing persuasive arguments in Emily Doss’ fourth-grade class.
Doss, a 10-year teaching veteran, said opinion writing is a standard topic for fourth graders at Sierra Vista. Students introduce a topic, state an opinion, organize their thoughts, provide reasons supported by facts and details and provide a concluding statement related to the opinion presented.
Doss’ class uses Scholastic News for supplemental material and last Thursday, her class read an article on flavored milk such as chocolate and whether it should be banned due to its high sugar content.
“The students were really interested in the issue, so we had talked about how we could spend time the following day in writing a letter to the student nutrition department of the school district to state our case,” she said.
Although Doss’ class had finished up its opinion writing unit a few weeks earlier, she said she likes to revisit topics throughout the school year and the article provided an opportunity to do so. The students crafted an argument and prepared to present it to Juan Cordon, Vacaville Unified School District’s director of student nutrition.
What Doss did not anticipate was that one of her students, Jordan Reed, took the idea a step further by creating posters and coming up with chants for when they met with Cordon.
Carrying signs that read “We want chocolate milk” and “Got milk?” and chanting “What do we want? Chocolate milk! When do we want it? Now!,” students rallied for their beloved milk outside the school and made their case to Cordon, who emphasized that the beverage was removed due to its high amounts of sugar and low nutritional value, but students developed counterarguments of their own.
Doss said her students were well prepared.
“We had gone back through the text of the original article and pulled out the most important details that supported the plea to return chocolate milk to the school menu,” she said. “We even looked at how we could use counterarguments to strengthen our position.”
This bargaining session initially resulted in a compromise from Cordon, where he said the nutrition department would be able to serve chocolate cookies once a week in place of chocolate milk. The students did not support this proposal, so he instead came up with a solution that satisfied everyone: chocolate milk one day a week every other week, and chocolate chip cookies in the other weeks.
Doss said she was pleased with the coverage the lesson got, even saying that she had friends from other states call her and tell her they saw it on their local news stations. She also used the reporting as an opportunity for another in-class discussion Monday.
“We watched the clip from KCRA together, and I asked them if they felt it was an accurate representation of what happened in our classroom,” she said. “Taking the time to analyze media is such an important skill that students need in society today. By having them experience this firsthand, and then see what was included, excluded and how they portrayed it will likely give them the biggest lesson here.”
VUSD spokeswoman Elaine Kong said the debate was indicative of a successful negotiation by the Student Nutrition Department to educate students about making healthy food choices and enjoying things in moderation.
“On the district level this is a win-win for all involved, and spurred an even larger change than our demonstrators may have imagined,”she said.
Kong said Cordon and his team are currently exploring additional whole milk vendors to deliver higher quality milk options that also reduce food waste. She highlighted that Sierra Vista was one of several VUSD schools to receive a kitchen facilities upgrade through Measure A, a $194 million bond approved by Vacaville voters in 2014.
“The Vacaville Unified School District is grateful for the opportunity to offer universal lunches, largely made from scratch to each student who walks through our doors,” she said. The VUSD Student Nutrition Department has made it a priority to not only feed our students delicious, healthy meals, but to feed their ability to grow healthy eating habits in their future.”
Overall, Doss was happy to see her students take a stand, something that will serve them well in the future.
“I just want my students to know that they are important, and their voice matters,” she said. “They are the leaders of tomorrow, and I want to give them the tools they need to be successful.”