School Memories

I Love Tongs Guest Post: School Lunches, a Decade or Two Later

My wonderful friend Heather Shellen invited me to guest post for her food blog, I Love Tongs, about the school lunches that I ate while reschooling on each campus. Here’s Heather’s very kind introduction, and an excerpt of the post. Read the complete post here.

A couple of years ago, my dear friend Melia made the amazing and brave decision to go back to school. As in start over from kindergarten. I’m sure your initial reaction is “Well that sounds easy!” but you and I both know that you would be out of the game at 3rd-grade Geometry and you are absolutely not smarter than a 5th grader. But her ambition and dedication to this project are not the only reasons I love Melia. This is a woman who never turns down a costume party or an SF Mission taco crawl. She can also school anyone in a game of early 90s trivia. I asked her to share some of her experiences with school lunch here, and she graciously obliged.

With all the national attention that healthy school lunches are getting these days, you might wonder how the lunches at your own schools have changed since you were a student. I wondered the same thing, and a couple of years ago I happened to have a chance to find out.

I committed the fall of 2008 to a “do-over” of my schooling, like Billy Madison but for real. I got permission to spend a week in each of my old school classrooms in the San Francisco Bay Area: kindergarten, first grade, and so on, all the way through college. The project was called Reschool Yourself, and its goal was for me to make peace with 17 years of school that I had found did not prepare me for life. (You can read more about the project here.)

Along the way, I dedicated myself to “method lunching,” eating cafeteria food with my fellow students. If there were options that had been on the menu when I was enrolled the first time around, I ordered those and assessed how they stacked up. Here are some highlights from my school lunch adventures.

1. Elementary School: Hot Dogs
El Verano Elementary School, Sonoma, CA

When I was a kid, the only day that I’d buy lunch instead of brown bagging it was Friday, because it was Pizza Day. Miraculously, 23 years later, Friday was still Pizza Day, so I planned to buy “hot lunch” from the school cafeteria on that day of the week.

Imagine my disappointment when I saw hot dogs instead. “We barbecue the first and last weeks of school,” said the lunch lady. “It’s a special occasion.”

At least they were chicken dogs. Here’s what I wrote about my lunch that day (read the full post):

The principal, who was graciously helping serve lunch that day, gave me an extra helping of peppered macaroni salad, a slice of watermelon, and a chocolate chip cookie. At the end of the counter there were bowls of fresh fruit, mini bags of carrots, and boxes of raisins, all for the taking; I was happy to see a broader, healthier selection than we’d had in the 80s…

I (was) surprised that the food tasted so good, the buttery cookie in particular. The hot dog wasn’t half bad, especially with relish and ketchup, and the pepper in the macaroni salad gave it an original flavor. The flailing arms of the (kindergarteners) had slid my watermelon wedge onto the table, and I left it untouched, following one of the cardinal rules in education: No matter how hungry you are, never eat anything that has touched kids’ fingers or their tabletops.

The best part of the meal was the chocolate milk, that thick, rich chocolatey goodness packed into a tiny carton. Turns out that the secret to the thickness is….corn starch. Yum. I drank half, enjoying it thoroughly, and pitched the rest.

Read the rest of the post on I Love Tongs.

Video: Reschooling in Elementary School

If you’re curious to get a glimpse into my time in the classroom, I’ve posted three videos of me and the students at my elementary school, El Verano. They’re just super short clips and not edited, but they’ll introduce you to the kids I’ve written about and how they interacted with me. The first two are from the documentary shoot.

1) Competing against the third graders in Around the World, a math game that many of us played in class as kids (32 seconds):


Memory Walk: College Living Spaces

My five and a half hour memory walk took me to all of my old living spaces at Santa Clara University, and here are some highlights.

These are the three places I lived at SCU:

1) Swig Hall, the 11-story freshman party dorm. Yes, it is really called Swig, after Benjamin Swig. Upperclassmen delighted in yelling, “WAKE UP, SWIG!” from below as they passed by at all hours of the night. People often set fire to couches outside or threw items off balconies. Always seems like a good idea at the time.

2) McLaughlin Hall, a quieter dorm, for sophomores at the time. I roomed with my friend Charlotte, a fellow Psych major and Type A student. Our best friends Katie and Alicia were next door. I got to stay in McLaughlin for four days and three nights while visiting SCU a couple of weeks ago. I loved every minute.

3) A 2-bedroom apartment in a complex near campus. I lived there with Charlotte, Katie, and Alicia during most of junior year (we all studied abroad during the fall quarter) and senior year. We had a lot of dinners and occasional dance parties, but we were all latecomers to the party scene, and none of us really drank alcohol until after college. Because of the Silicon Valley boom in around the year 2000, I had to share a room during all four years of college, and we paid a pretty penny for doing so.

I’m experimenting with using a captioned slideshow instead of posting full-sized pictures, so leave a comment and let me know what you think. Click a photo, which has a caption underneath, and hover on the right side and click the arrow to advance.








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What have you remembered by walking around your college living spaces, or just looking at these photos?

Remember This? #33 College Dining Hall

The Benson Memorial Center dining commons, the place where I had ever so many a meal. This woman was there when I was in school and actually remembered me. I ate my favorite SCU breakfast, scrambled eggs and tater tots (pictured above), two days in a row. I doused them with ketchup, and their greasy goodness tasted wonderful….and then sat heavily in my stomach all day. It was worth it. Since I rarely eat fried foods, I simply had to eat all of those tater tots when given the chance.

To see the pictures below as a slideshow, click on one to enlarge it and then hover with your mouse on the right edge until the arrow appears.


When ordering, I noticed a common type of exchange between one of the cafeteria workers and a student. The worker was a Latina woman with a heavy accent who asked the girl, who was Caucasian, what she would like to order. The girl asked for “Just eggs.” The woman began piling tater tots on the plate, and the girl repeated, “No, just eggs.” The worker nodded and started adding eggs to the plate, and the girl said loudly, “No tater tots, just eggs.” Her tone wasn’t disrespectful, but she was becoming understandably frustrated at not being understood. Observing this reminded me of this type of uncomfortable tension between private school students and the older immigrants who serve them. I remember that when I was a student, noticing my relative privilege made me feel both grateful and guilty. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it.


Remember This? #29 The Baby Project

If you do, leave a comment!

Remember The Baby Project? In my Christian Lifestyles class senior year, there were more girls than boys, so I partnered up with my best friend Katie to parent a flour baby. Most of the pairs in the class gave their babies trendy names like “Taylor Jean” or “Skylar Marie.” We named ours “Bossu Manon-Jean DiGuire.” Katie had just watched two French movies about a hunchback (bossu in French) named Jean (soft French pronunciation) and his lady love, Manon. We combined Katie’s last name, McGuire, with Dicker to form the fashionable “DiGuire.” Our classmates thought that naming our child “Hunchback” was cruel, but we preferred to see it as original. Katie grew up with such a common name that she wanted to make sure little Bossu stood out among her peers.

I’m not sure how much responsibility we learned from the project. I remember a couple of instances where Katie left our flour baby in our locker, or out on senior patio where anyone could have snatched her and baked her into cookies.

Aren’t the headless babies above a little creepy, especially the one that looks like it’s on a butcher block? (It’s actually an art table.)

If These Halls Could Talk

Walking into St. Vincent High School on Monday morning was like entering a time warp. Though I’d taken a tour recently during my 10-year high school reunion weekend, it had been on a Sunday morning, when the campus was nearly deserted. This week, seeing the school swarming with teenagers and squeezing my way through the crowded hallways has played tricks on my brain, transporting me back to the mid-90s when I was a high school student. This feeling has hit me at various times this week, as I sit in my old desks in classes taught by my old teachers, most of whom are still at the school. I’ve had more powerful memories at SV than I’ve had at my other schools, because I attended the school more recently and knew most of the 400 students by sight.


3 Things You May Have Forgotten About Middle School

Here are some middle school memories you may not have thought about in a while. Do you remember….

1) Being asked out by the friends of a kid in your class?

During lunch last week, a 7th grade boy approached me on the blacktop.

Boy: Ben wants to know if you’ll go out with him.

Me: Does Ben know that I’m 16 years older than he is?

Boy: Yeah. So will you go out with him?

Me: Well, since I don’t know him, I guess I can’t go out with him.


The Tech Wizards of Tomorrow

The use of technology at Altimira is one of the biggest changes I noticed upon return. In math class, I couldn’t get over the digital overhead projectors, which display 3-D color images. I’m not sure how they work, I kept staring in wonder at the image of the teacher’s hands in full color, instead of shadow. In music class, instead of using LPs, cassette tapes, or even CDs, today’s teachers have thousands of songs at their fingertips with iTunes.


Outdoor Education

Sixth-grade outdoor education stands as one of my all-time best school experiences. Visiting Mendocino Woodlands, which is located about three hours north of Sonoma, was my first meaningful connection with nature, and with my peers. Singing around a campfire and nervously hiking in dark woods together bonded us in a way that no activity on campus could. We went in October 1991 — 17 years ago exactly — shortly after starting middle school, and the trip set a positive tone for the rest of the year. I recorded in my journal that my classmates and I had named our small group “The Poisonous Flying Raccoons” (see reference below) and they had nicknamed me “Bob.” Don’t ask me why, but I liked it. I penciled in my slanting cursive about Outdoor Ed, “I wish it would never end.” As a senior in high school, I still remembered the week vividly and wrote the following poem about it.