Note: The names in this post have been changed to protect the privacy of the family.
Last week, Baltimore Fishbowl staffer Jane Smith got the sort of call that every parent dreads. On the other end of the line was the principal of the Baltimore City charter school her seventh grade son attends.
“I have your son, and he’s been involved in an incident involving his weapon,” the principal announced to Smith.
Weapon, what weapon? That was Smith’s first thought. Then it came to her. “The marshmallow cannon?” she asked. Indeed, that was the “weapon” in question.
Minutes later, when Smith arrived at her son Zach’s school, he was hysterical. He’d never been in trouble before. In fact, he is known among his peers as a peacemaker. And, notes Smith, with other kids at the school setting fires and cursing at teachers in the classroom, her son normally looks like an angel in comparison. But, apparently, not that day.
It all started with a quest for a cool science project. According to Smith, her son fell in love with a project he saw demonstrated on YouTube by none other than President Obama at a youth science fair (see video): The marshmallow cannon. According to Smith, plenty of YouTube videos demonstrate how to make such a device, which requires an elaborate array of PVC pipes and uses a bicycle pump to generate sufficient air pressure for shooting marshmallows.
Zach soon got busy creating his version of the marshmallow cannon for his school’s science fair. He carefully fit together the requisite pieces, then measured the air pressure required to launch a puffy, fresh marshmallow using the scientific equation for PSI (to non-science folks, that’s the measurement of a one pound-force applied to an area of one square inch). No doubt Zach felt confident that he would get a good grade on the project.
Instead, he cowered in the principal’s office, scared to death, on the day he planned to showcase his marshmallow cannon. He later told his mother why. According to Zach, the principal had told him he’d be spending the weekend behind bars at a juvenile detention facility and probably would be expelled.
“It was said that the policy is for expulsion or long-term suspension, and North Ave would have to make that call,” Smith said. Ultimately, the principal informed Zach’s mother on the phone the morning of the incident that he would be receiving an in-school suspension.
Zach served his two-day suspension in school without further incident.
So, what exactly spurred the punishment?
On the day Zach got suspended, he arrived early to school as he always did. Typically, says Smith, Zach and a few other boys play cards. Sometimes Zach draws. But on this day, his pals were eager to try out Zach’s marshmallow cannon. And, despite his parents’ warning not to take the project out of the bag, the temptation proved too great.
Out came the marshmallow cannon. Launch. Ping. It hit one of his buddies in the neck. Next?
“Everything we [Smith and her husband] said could go wrong did go wrong,” Smith said.
That weekend, Zach spent the bulk of this time not in a juvenile detention facility, as his principal had suggested, but in his room—dusting and scrubbing his shelves—as a punishment.
As for the science project, Zach was never able to demonstrate the cannon’s effectiveness to his classmates beyond those who got an abruptly ended sneak preview.
“I removed the ‘weapon’ from school so no other marshmallows would be fired,” Smith said.