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Senior Slumps, No More Tears, And Food, Folks, and Fun

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Teacher Magazine's take on education news from around the Web, May 31-June 11.

Let's face it: Around this time of year, it's not just the oldest kids (or even just the kids) who suffer from variants of the senior slump. That's why schools keep tinkering with ways to keep students' attention right until the bitter end. At Jenkintown High School in Pennsylvania, the week before finals is known as "quiet week," with nary a class banquet, award ceremony, or picnic marring the schedule. While well-meaning teachers attempt to spice things up at year's end by emphasizing student presentations, outside internships, or interactive activities, perhaps New Jersey's Delanco School District has the best idea: It schedules fun, far- flung field trips during the final weeks of school, but only for students who've managed to stay on task all year.

Sometimes, year-end attempts to recognize students can backfire. That seems to have been the case at Pleasantville Middle School in New Jersey, where a first-year basketball coach—now an ex-coach, for reasons that will soon become apparent—told 8th grader Terrence Philo Jr. to show up for the team banquet to pick up a special award. Show up he did, only to be jokingly presented with the " Crybaby Award," so named because Philo had constantly begged for more playing time. In the end, the wronged student got an apology, an assembly in his honor, and a new award—the Terrence Philo Jr. award, which will be bestowed upon future students who exhibit tear-free team spirit.

While that rookie coach had to eat considerable amounts of crow, students at the Chandler School in Duxbury, Massachusetts, will be spared from similar levels of gorging, at least when it comes to cupcakes. Yes, classroom birthday parties are the latest casualty of attempts to curb student obesity, with Chandler parents soon to be forbidden from sending home-baked sweets to school. Instead, birthday boys and girls will be given flashy but indigestible chair covers, sashes, and pencils to help celebrate. One mother of four understands but laments: "It's the kid's special day, and now it has to be regulated."

At the word "regulated," lawmakers' ears all too often perk up. Still, rarely has the question of snacks in schools sparked heated emotional debate in the nation's statehouses, where chummy back-room deals and floor-vote formalities are more often the rule. But in New York, nearly two dozen lawmakers passionately debated a bill that would ban in schools the sale of, among other things, "hard candy, chocolate candy, jellies, gums, marshmallow candies, fondant"—we had to look that one up; it's a sweet, creamy sugar paste—"licorice, spun candy, and candy-coated popcorn." Finger-wagging usually reserved for more weighty matters preceded the vote, with one legislator winning the nickname "Willie Wonka" for his attempts to defend chocolate as a nutritious snack. Another called the bill an ominous precursor of a brave new world where "you have to be 21 to buy a Ho Ho." Ultimately the bill passed 139-5, with one lawmaker attributing the pre-vote histrionics to "too much sugar in the members' lounge."

At the George School in Newtown, Pennsylvania, sugar wasn't the problem—meat was. After a vocal group of students at the liberal-leaning Quaker school convinced the cafeteria to offer more vegetarian dishes, two fed-up seniors founded MEAT, or Mammals Eating Animals Today. With all the enthusiasm of Atkins converts, seniors Jad Carson and Barry Gessner now hold sway over regular "meatings" (yes, meatings) featuring copious amounts of baby back ribs and the occasional discussion of such ponderous topics as organic farming or the humane treatment of farm animals. While they confess to a lighthearted approach, MEAT members argue that conservative issues still get short shrift at their school. For now, they've settled for selling T-shirts proclaiming "Cow: The World's Tastiest Renewable Resource" to raise money for Heifer Project International, which buys dairy cows for poor families worldwide.

But it's Carlene LeFevre, an elementary school teacher from Henderson, Nevada, who should really frighten the farm animals. As the school year drew to a close, she traveled to Arizona to participate in a hot-dog-eating contest sanctioned by the prestigious International Federation of Competitive Eating. She polished off 16 hot dogs in 12 minutes—well shy of her personal best of 21 (and the world record of 50), but good enough to retain the state title and, presumably, her standing with the IFOCE as the world's ninth-best hot dog eater. Like teachers, it seems binge eaters also periodically need to get recertified. It's an open question, though, which group has to endure the most bologna.

—Mark Toner

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