As their last year in middle school enters its final months, Gr. 8 students got an extra dose of responsibility in caring for a flour sack baby in early March. The surrogates were looked after for an entire week and “it is important for the students to be responsible parents for the entire week,” said K-Gr. 8 P.E. department chair Chrissy Chang.
Students lost points if they abandoned their baby or it was harmed. Although the program permitted use of babysitters, they could look after no more than three babies at one time. The exercise took place during a week of dance show rehearsals and athletic schedules, so special day care stations had to be established – just like for real parents. While most students successfully cared for their flour sack babies, several soccer players were unable to prevent subjecting their charges to drenching rain.
“The objective of the project is to have responsibility for a child; therefore, they cannot just put it in the locker and leave it. They must care for it and make sure it is safe,” said Chang. Teachers and BEST staff participated by reporting neglect and other violations.
“I really got into the project, dressing the flour sack in clothes and giving it a name,” said Samantha Hoffman. “For a while, the sack felt almost like an actual baby, if only because it required so much constant attention.
“The most challenging aspect was keeping the ‘baby’ in pristine condition until the teachers could grade it,” Hoffman added. “Rain filled the entire week of the project, and daily activities such as lunch and recess posed possible threats to the flour sacks.”
Classmate Lydia Werthen agreed. “Having the ‘baby’ definitely gave me a sense of responsibility, particularly because we were judged on how well we could take care of it. It was difficult to carry an extra five pounds around campus on top of all my books, let alone having one pile of school things in one hand and a flour sack in the other. It made me much more aware of what I was doing and how I was holding everything, which is basically what a parent should think about too.”
Werthen noted two major difficulties in carr ying the baby around. “The first one was the weather; it was raining for the first half of the week and that was when none of us knew our babies had to be wearing clothes! For almost three days I was frantically trying to make sure that not a single drop of water hit my flour sack. The second hardest par t about it was when I had to use my locker. Even opening my locker and taking out a few notebooks was far more challenging than I had expected, and taking out my backpack was quite an ordeal. I noticed at the end of the week that most students had star ted carrying their backpacks around campus instead of making frequent trips to their lockers as well.”
Like Hoffman, Werthen did not lose points for neglect, “but there were several times when I was close to. For example, after Harmonics I would sometimes just walk away from the classroom to go home and suddenly remember my baby was still in ‘day care’ in the Harmonics room. It wasn’t uncommon to see a stampede of eighth graders running back to the room after school to fetch their babies, just like me!”
Hoffman noted, “My favorite part of this project was the lessons I took away from it. Surprisingly, carr ying a flour sack baby around for a week was a fun and efficient way to teach adolescents the disadvantages and hassles of being a teenage parent.”
Werthen found a bright side, too. “The most enjoyable par t about the flour sack baby week was placing myself in a parent’s shoes for five days and being able to share the experience with my friends. For most of the week it wore this really cute baby chicken mask and it was funny to see how ever yone else decorated their flour sacks. I also loved dressing up my baby. During lunch recess we would sit in a circle with all our babies and just take pictures and have fun with them. At the end of the week and into the weekend we were allowed to bake something using the flour, but most of my classmates chose not to and I can kind of understand why. This project just had a really great impact on our parenting skills and responsibility, even if we were working with basically five pounds of flour.“