How a Chick-fil-A lunch proved to be a powerful motivator for middle school students

As the 2021-2022 school year entered its final home stretch, many of Lauren Shaffer’s students needed a little extra motivation to shake off spring fever and make the grade.  

“They’d been through a second tough year of navigating school and home life during the pandemic,” recalled Shaffer, who teaches art at Ernest Childers Middle School in the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. “Out of the 30 kids in my advisory (a homeroom class that meets daily), 20 were failing at least one class and most were failing two or more.”

An outside-of-the-lunchbox idea

With only a few weeks remaining until final report cards, Shaffer decided to explore an out-the-box idea. She polled her students to see what would inspire them to end the academic year on a high note. The near-unanimous answer from the pre-teens? Food, of course.

Shaffer followed up with a more specific question, asking the class what they’d want to eat if money were no object. 

“Chick-fil-A was the overwhelming response,” she recalled.

Knowing 30 meals was well outside her budget, Shaffer sent a quick email request to Chick-fil-A Broken Arrow. “I figured, ‘Why not?’” she said. “They replied a few days later saying they’d love to help by providing lunch if the students reached their goals.”

Shaffer’s students buckled down, keeping their eyes (and stomachs) on the mouthwatering prize. They studied hard, zipped through assignments and tracked their progress each day.

As their grades improved, so did their attitudes. “They started to perk up, going from the moody 8th graders they can be at times to shining their true light,” said Shaffer, adding that students in other advisories lobbied to join the challenge. “And as a teacher, it was great to see the change from physical motivation to intrinsic motivation. Even those who didn’t get to the passing point were touched that someone cared enough about them to want to help them.”

A powerful power lunch 

The challenge proved to be a success. “In the end, we went from over 20 failing to over 20 passing,” Shaffer said. After enjoying a celebratory lunch courtesy of Chick-fil-A Broken Arrow, the class sent their favorite neighborhood restaurant personalized thank-you notes with cow drawings and clever messages like “Chicken is Brain Food”. 

“My mother was a teacher, so I saw first-hand what little resources teachers have at their disposal,” said Chick-fil-A Broken Arrow Operator Amanda Almy. “Food is just the platform we use to influence and impact others in our community. It's really nice to know what an impact such a seemingly small thing had on these kids. It is a great reminder for myself and my team that what we are doing has purpose.” 

Shaffer said she continues to find creative ways to motivate her students and, most importantly, encourage them to prioritize their mental health. She didn’t rule out bringing back the same challenge. 

“The experience made me realize that I’m not just limited to myself or my school,” she concluded, “and that I should reach out to the many wonderful people in the community—like our friends at Chick-fil-A Broken Arrow—who are willing and wanting to help.”  

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