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Sandwiches bulked up at Staples after student complaints

Published 4:38 pm, Friday, September 14, 2012

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  • Staples High School students Russell "Rusty" Schindler, left, and Devon Lowman went online to create a petition asking for changes at the Staples deli in sandwiches prepared this school year in conformance with new federal guidelines. Photo: Jarret Liotta / Westport News contributed
    Staples High School students Russell "Rusty" Schindler, left, and Devon Lowman went online to create a petition asking for changes at the Staples deli in sandwiches prepared this school year in conformance with new federal guidelines. Photo: Jarret Liotta

 

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The new school year has barely begun, but there's already been one "dropout" at Staples High School.

No, it's not a student throwing in the towel just weeks into the academic cycle, but new dietary rules governing how sandwiches are made in the Staples cafeteria that -- after a chorus of student objections -- have been dropped.

Despite what may have been the federal Department of Agriculture's best intentions, the guidelines to promote healthier eating implemented at the start of the year were on the menu only a few days.

School officials reassessed the policy and opted to put more meat into it after listening to students' complaints.

"They were charging the same price for a quarter of what we were getting," said Devon Lowman, 17, a Staples senior who organized a petition among students that called for changes in the sandwich policy.

Last year, he said, for $4 students got "as much meat and as much cheese and other toppings as you wanted on sandwiches," as well as a choice from eight kinds of bread. "What it had come to was only three choices of bread (and) two slices of meat."

"The pasta was changed from our regular pasta to whole wheat pasta, which is like eating cardboard," said Russell Schindler, 17, a senior who helped Lowman in two days collect nearly 100 signatures objecting to the changes.

"There was a lot more fruit, which I was happy with, but they got rid of the pudding, which people love. ... And they got rid of the chips."

"The change was a surprise to me, certainly," said Staples Principal John Dodig, "and that was a result of cuts and changes in USDA regulations -- our government trying to keep us healthy."

The new regulations are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was recently enacted.

According to the USDA website, it is the first time in more than 15 years that standards have been upgraded in school meal programs, which service close to 32 million children.

According to Nancy Harris, Westport schools' assistant superintendent of business, the changes aimed to reduce fat, lower sodium and increase fruits and vegetable in student diets, as well as regulate grains and proteins.

"This is intended to make sure students are receiving age-appropriate, nutritionally adequate meals that provide the right amount of energy from healthful food sources," she said.

But Schindler said, "I feel that forcing teenagers to eat healthy will actually do the opposite."

In the end, Westport administrators decided that sandwiches did not have to be regulated under the guidelines, and could be restored to their original size.

They also plan to make refinements in other food service areas throughout the year, and will be working in conjunction with students.

"Our deli will no longer be part of the USDA program," Dodig said.

"Taking away sandwiches and the other foods that students really enjoy was really not feeding them enough," Schindler said. "I'm 17 years old and I'm growing. I need like 3,000 calories a day. One piece of meat isn't going to hold me very long."

While Dodig said he understood and appreciated students' concerns, he added that he doesn't believe petitions are always the most effective means of fostering change.

"I like the fact that they get involved, but what I fear is that they learn the wrong lesson," he said.

Rather than immediately starting a petition about an aggrieved subject, Dodig said it's preferable for students to begin by meeting with school administrators and expressing their grievances, which can then be presented to the staff.

Lowman, who said he "had a whole plan" in mind aimed at restoring the sandwiches, feels the administration's quick response is a reflection of Dodig's leadership philosophy.

"They always talk about how they're governed by the student body, and how they really listen to us," he said. "This kind of made that clear to me. They really listen to what we say."