The powers that be took something precious from Jordan Reed, but he vowed to fight back.
His weapons of choice: well-researched arguments, protest signs and the backing of dozens of others who had also been robbed.
Together, they would try to bring back chocolate milk.
Jordan, a 9-year-old fourth grader at Sierra Vista K-8 School in Northern California, took to heart last week’s lesson about opinion writing, unleashing what he’d learned of Vacaville Unified School District’s 2020 decision to remove chocolate milk from the lunch menu. Within roughly 24 hours, Jordan turned the classroom instruction into a protest with his 26 classmates — and one sixth grader — that drew the school district’s nutrition department to Sierra Vista for an impromptu, on-the-spot negotiation with Jordan and his comrades.
But would they succeed?
The district’s nutrition officials pulled chocolate milk from school menus because of its high sugar content, Richie Wilim, district chef and culinary manager, told The Washington Post, and they’re not alone. For more than a decade, the beverage has been taking fire from critics who say it’s unhealthy, leading schools to tweak the sugar and fat levels in their chocolate milk or ban it altogether.
Last week, Jordan’s teacher, Emily Doss, reviewed what her 27 students had learned earlier in the year about opinion and argumentative writing. To do so, she gave them a Scholastic News article asking “Should Schools Serve Flavored Milk?” The story featured Esteban Perez, a Missouri fourth grader who last year successfully lobbied his school to reintroduce the strawberry milk it had taken away.
Doss’s lesson was a hit. While school officials told The Post they got little pushback when they took away chocolate milk in 2020, Doss watched her students get fiery. Doss told them she could tell they were passionate about the issue and promised to revisit it the next day by researching arguments and outlining a letter to the district’s nutrition department.
“But I didn’t know that Jordan said, ‘That’s not good enough for me,'” Doss told The Washington Post.
Jordan went home that night and got to work. Remembering the days when he drank chocolate milk four times a week, he made signs — “We need it please,” “Less regular, more chocolate” and simply “Justice.” He teamed up with his little brother to create chants — “What do we want? Chocolate milk! When do we want it? Now!” and “Say its name! Choc-olate milk!”
Even though he asked his mother not to post anything on Facebook so he could maintain the element of surprise, she gave her fellow principal at Sierra Vista a heads up that her son was busy mounting a protest that might burst onto the scene the following school day. Word of Jordan’s plan made its way to Elaine Kong, the district’s communications director, who tipped off a local TV station.
Doss, however, didn’t learn about it until the following day when the KCRA news crew was already on its way to the school. After rushing back to her students, she broke the news of Jordan’s imminent protest and rallied his classmates to help him pull it off.
“Organized chaos” erupted as Doss’s students sprang into action. They reviewed the Scholastic News article, homing in on facts they could use to make their case. And while Jordan had made some signs the night before, Doss deputized his peers into creating enough for the entire class.
“It felt like the last day of school when kids are so hyped up that they can’t bring it back down,” Doss said.
Then, signs in hand and their voices loud, they flooded out of their classroom. They ended up at the front of the school where Juan Cordon, the district’s director of student nutrition, addressed their demands. Jordan told Cordon that providing only regular milk causes food waste, since students drink less of it. He also pointed out that, if he and other students don’t drink as much milk, they might get less sugar but also miss out on the nutrients chocolate milk provides, like calcium and vitamin D.
It’s what teachers dream of, Doss said. “We’re trying our hardest to inspire our kids to take the information that we teach them and apply it in a real-world situation.”
The end result: The school agreed to serve chocolate milk one day every two weeks.
“I felt good about it because I brought back something that everybody wanted,” Jordan told The Post.
Wilim, the district chef, said he thinks it’s great the students protested, admitting that he and others in the nutrition department “were missing a key component” until they heard from their most important critics.
“To remove it completely maybe wasn’t the best decision,” Wilim said, adding, “It was really cool the way that Jordan presented himself to bring in a healthy debate and for us to find a compromise — that chocolate milk should be available as a treat.” He also broke some good news for Jordan: School administrators plan to sweeten the deal they struck with him at Friday’s protest. They’ll offer chocolate milk once a week instead of every other week.
So what was the debate all about? Depends on who you ask.
Jordan’s mom, Jessica Reed, said her son’s protest wasn’t really about chocolate milk; it was about a young person learning he can be a “change agent” and inspire others to do the same.
Or at least that’s what she was trying to say until Jordan interrupted her.
“No, it was about the chocolate milk,” he said
Nevertheless, Jordan and his classmates have been buoyed by their advocacy success. They’ve already started talking about other things they want to fight to improve.
One early favorite: a longer recess. Then, Doss said, she gave them some information that might inform their decision. She told her students the state required they be in class a certain amount of time. More recess could lead to an overall longer school day.
The consensus: never mind.
But it’s good that they’re now looking for ways to advocate for themselves and change the world for the better, Doss said. “It started off as not being a big thing, and then it just kind of took off,” Doss said, adding, “It was pretty cool to see … how it went from a review lesson to this huge life lesson for these kids.”
Jordan maintained his protest was about getting the chocolate milk back. But, after some prodding from his mom, he conceded he also learned a larger lesson.
“Anybody can make change.”