Crickets a la eeww
Principal Bob Vicari said he'd eat live bugs if grades and behavior improved. It was a challenge that his students couldn't resist.
By THOMAS C. TOBIN, Times Staff Writer
Published February 7, 2008
One stunt has always been in the principal's bag of tricks, but more so since the school accountability movement began.
Challenge the students to succeed, then let them punish you when they do.
Scores of principals have shaved their heads or sat in dunk tanks, all to prod kids toward better grades or success on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
Twice in his six years as principal of Osceola Middle School in Seminole, principal Bob Vicari, 48, has moved his office to the roof. Students have smashed pies in his face. He's been pelted by water balloons.
But on Wednesday he took the principal-as-victim shtick to a new level, downing a crunchy Fear Factor lunch of live crickets purchased from a PetSmart store. He did it three times, once for each grade.
The day produced two findings.
One: The ear-splitting screams of 400 middle school kids can rival the roar of a jet engine.
Two: "I learned something about eating bugs," Vicari confessed after downing the first cricket. "Bite it. Bite it right away."
Try as he might to mask the experience with a trace of creamy Italian dressing, the first creature crawled around on his tongue a split second too long.
One teacher asked how it tasted.
"Not bad. Like a stale peanut," said Vicari.
"Ew," came her response.
"Ugh. So gross," said Susan Alvaro, the sixth-grade administrator, in disgust and admiration.
"He is such a proactive, kid-oriented principal. He'll do anything for the kids."
Osceola has an A grade from the state, and more than 70 percent of its students test at grade level in reading and math - well above the district average.
Still, Vicari "is always challenging them to go to the next level," Alvaro said.
Recently, Vicari told students he would eat bugs if he saw increased numbers on the principal's list, the honor roll and the "E-Team," a group of students who get good marks for behavior.
The challenge was for the grading period that ended Jan. 17, a time when grades typically fall off.
The students responded with a record number (487) making the principal's list and honor roll. Membership in the E-Team rose to 658, up from 601 last year.
Carwise Middle School principal Garrison Linder said students do seem to respond to challenges and other rewards. Once he offered to shave his mustache for a fundraising drive, but never had to pay up when sales fell short. He also remembers not being able to breathe when a 60-pound middle schooler mashed a cream pie into his face.
He didn't sound likely to copy Vicari's stunt.
"Good for Bob," Linder said.
"If it wasn't for your hard work and your dedication in setting a new standard for all the other students, I would not be doing this right now," Vicari told the seventh-graders Wednesday. "So, believe me, that's the only thing that makes it worth it."
Several students said the challenge worked for them.
"I think it's kind of weird, and I think it's kind of cool at the same time," said Tyler Salyers, 11.
Said fellow sixth-grader Steven Miller: "We told him we were going to do it, and now he's going to pay."
Vicari kept the crickets in a jar, taking them to each table as kids ate lunch. To avoid any sickness, he waited until they finished before he did the deed.
"Are you sure they're alive?" asked Michael Martinez, 11.
"'Course they're alive," said Vicari, who turns out to be quite the showman.
"So, here I go," he told the seventh grade, spearing two bugs with a fork. "I'll make sure I get one of the nice juicy hard ones."
The crowd chanted, "Eat it! Eat it! Eat it!"
The principal held the fork up high for maximum effect.
He put it in his mouth, triggering a massive shriek.
He stuck out his tongue and strutted in a circle for all to see.
Then he offered a comment that brought more screams: "I was told you have to floss afterwards because the legs get caught between your teeth."
His quip about the bugs possibly tasting better than the chicken nuggets at Osceola Middle fell flat on ears of cafeteria manager Donna Crews, who praised Vicari as a great motivator but said her chicken nuggets were just fine.
"I wouldn't have eaten it," she said of the principal's protein-laden lunch. "Crickets are meant to fish with."
Nutritional values of a cricket
Protein: 12.9 grams
Fat: 5.5 grams
Calcium: 75.8 miligrams
Iron: 9.5 milligrams
Source: Iowa State University Entomology Department