Our Takis party

Last month, we filled our classroom marble jar and voted for a Takis party as our reward.

This led to more reflection on my part than you might think. Takis are HUGELY popular at our school, primarily among my many Mexican-American students, and they’re pretty roundly despised by me because their red stains are even more persistent than those of Flaming Hot Cheetos. Receiving permission to cover desks with butcher paper and nosh on flavored corn snacks is a high honor. One I’ve tried persistently but unsuccessfully to discourage.

But this was the second time they’ve requested a Takis party, and as there was no way to doctor the voting results, I accepted the inevitable. The students cheered. I went on a search for Takis.

I came up short after my trip to Safeway. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m totally at a loss,” I admitted at our class meeting the next day.

“Oh, Miz Houghton, you just need to go to Valley Harvest,” A said matter-of-factly from his post at the back of the room. “Or you can go to Anne’s parents’ store. They have the big bags for $2.”

Bouncing up to my desk (at recess, of course, not during instructional time), Anne handed me a business card and pointed out the address and phone number. “This is my parents’ store. We have all sorts of Takis!”

Ruby Payne stuck with me that evening, as well as the next morning, when I groggily parked in front of Valley Market on my way to school. My kids are pros at finding this spicy snack food. Ferreting out the best prices on snack foods is further out of my middle-class comfort zone than I otherwise would have been willing to admit.

After all, I like to think that I’m not THAT far removed from understanding the experience of my students of poverty — I dealt with the Food Stamps program during my service in AmeriCorps, I paid my dues as a semi-starving college student, and I visit all my students at home during the summer — but this experience proved that I still have a lot to learn.

So there I was sitting outside the newly-remodeled Valley Market. What if the signs were in Spanish and I couldn’t read them? (“Miz Houghton, don’t worry, your Spanish is really getting better.” ~J) What if the employees didn’t speak English and I was stuck there wailing and gesticulating for Takis at 7 AM on a Tuesday? It honestly makes me a little lightheaded even now, writing about it weeks later.

Your thoughts might be turning to the rights and responsibilities of immigrant families. I get it. Immigration’s a hot topic. I’m not looking to debate any of that — I teach whoever shows up in my classroom. But consider: my kids’ parents must have to swallow quite a bit of pride to take their kids to the doctor, to the library, or even to register for school. I don’t know if I could be that brave. I might not even make it out of my car to buy the freaking Takis I promised my kids.

Checking in at Valley Harvest on foursquare seals the deal. I shoulder my bag and step into the market. It seems half-lit to my eyes, but only because the fluorescent lights aren’t as blazing as they are at QFC.

I wander around in a daze, passing food labeled in Russian and Asian-language packaging. I find the Cheetos. Surely I’m close now, I think as I will my heart to beat slower.

There. On an end cap, about halfway down. “Why aren’t these in a more prominent location? They’d sell SO MUCH BETTER if they were!” Middle-Class-Shannon silently protests. Valley-Harvest-Shannon is mortified at this snobbery. The Takis are clearly perfectly placed right by the front of the store (how did I walk past them?) and right at Ms. Houghton’s students’ eye-level.

I can see my kids peering through the blinds after they leave breakfast in the cafeteria.

“You FOUND them!” A cheers as he walks through the door.

I admit at our class meeting that I was pretty nervous pulling up to that unfamiliar store. My students nod sagely.

“Well yeah, it’s going to be new at first, but if you look for the color of the bags, you’ll find it,” A reassures me. He flashes the best kind of smile. “And now you’ll know where to go for our NEXT Takis party.”

They’ve taught me so much. They’ve learned so much. They’re gone in a month.

I guess I take some solace in the fact that this year we’ve done tons of work in preparing these students to cross class boundaries and break the cycle of poverty. For their part, my kids have kept me honest, thinking, and challenging my assumptions. I hope I’ve done the same for them.

Take my shopping expert, A. He arrived in my classroom frequently angry, unconnected, and snide. But along the way, something clicked. Now he’s a Wildcat Leader (self-manager), reading at a third-grade level (advancing from Fountas & Pinnell level H to level M), and an enthusiastic contributor to classroom conversations (“Can we please read this version of Anansi? It’s by the illustrator of Arrow to the Sun, AND look, it says here that he’s from Michigan.”).

All that, AND he knows where to score the best deals on Takis.

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