A tale of three lunches
Overcrowding causes concerns, admin enacts solutions
NOTE: This piece was published in Vol. 98, Issue 9 of The Booster Redux on Friday, April 29, 2016. Click here to view the issue.
Entering the cafeteria, sophomore Cassie Hurt-McLarty easily finds a seat next to her friends.
Hurt-McLarty is one of 128 students assigned to the second lunch period.
“Second lunch is really empty,” Hurt-McLarty said. “There are less people, so I am able to eat in peace and comfortably communicate with my friends.”
Joining his classmates in the lunch line, freshman Tayte Kelsey hopes to pick up his food as soon as possible so he can find a seat next to his friends.
Freshmen Ace Edwards, Carter Uttley, Paul Worsley and sophomore James Richey eat during first lunch. First lunch has 337 students assigned. "It's kind of hard to fit everyone in a nice, compact short lunch when we have so many people in school," Richey said. "There's not really a way to solve it." PHOTO BY MADDY EMERSON
Kelsey is one of 356 students assigned to third lunch period, while 337 students are assigned to first lunch period.
“I have to wait in line for around 10 to 15 minutes,” Kelsey said. “That’s too long. A lot of kids aren’t getting the food they need in the time they have available. If I’m lucky and my class is nearby, I have 20 minutes to eat, but some kids have less than 10 because of how long they have to wait in line.”
With a large majority of students assigned to first and third lunch and a minimal number of students assigned to second lunch, overcrowding has been a concern.
“Seating is certainly an issue,” assistant principal Rhonda White said. “There are long lunch lines, which are a nuisance and inconvenience to students.”
An increasing population is one factor contributing to overcrowding.
“Enrollment has grown,” White said. “We’ve significantly increased [in population over] just the last three or four years.”
According to White, preserving core academic time is a priority.
“Uninterrupted class time is crucial to making sure that teachers are able to have their best instruction and students are able to have their best learning,” White said. “That’s what has caused us to move to a heavy attendance in first and third lunch.”
According to food service manager Terri Feagan, there is inconsistency when it comes to the number of students waiting in line to obtain their food.
“I wish we could equal out the lines so there wouldn’t be such a big difference like there is now,” Feagan said. “If some of those kids from first or third lunch get into second, we would be pretty good for a while, unless we keep getting more students.”
In some cases, students in first and third lunch do not get to sit in their preferred seating location.
“Overcrowding in the cafeteria requires our students to be able to move from where they might have been used to sitting,” White said. “We have enough seats, it’s just crowded.”
For junior Skylur VonWinklepleck, sitting is replaced with standing.
“It’s really difficult for me to sit at a seat next to my friends,” VonWinklepleck said. “Because it’s so crowded, I usually don’t even sit at a table. Instead, I stand [next to] the edge of the table where my friends sit.”
Although the cafeteria is able to serve a large number of students, there are still issues concerning the current available space.
“Making sure we have enough seating so kids can sit together and spread out is an issue,” White said. “[Currently], this cafeteria and kitchen layout wasn’t designed to accommodate the number of students that we have right now with the scheduling we are trying to follow.”
Oftentimes, school outings contribute to more overcrowding in first and third lunch.
“A lot of times, teachers will send their kids down to eat on a certain line due to a field trip,” Feagan said. “I would like for them to tell me, ‘We’re going to send a certain amount of kids down to eat.’ If they have a few, that’s fine, but if they have 50 or 60 kids that they’re going to send down on a certain line, I would like for them to tell me because we try to cook everything in the morning.”
Additionally, student activities can cause different lunch populations to fluctuate due to early release times or schedule changes.
As a result of this, students specifically in third lunch often miss out on the opportunity of selecting their preferred choice of food.
“Kids who eat third lunch sometimes may not have the same choices,” White said. “They may have run out of one of the items. They never run out of food, but there may not be the two choices that students in first and second lunch might have had.”
According to a study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Project Bread, high school students who are given at least 25 minutes to eat lunch are more likely to choose fruits and consume more of their entrées, milk and vegetables.
Due to an extended wait, many students do not get 25 minutes to eat.
“When we have a lot of [food items] to serve, the kids don’t have enough time to finish [eating] their food because the lunch lines are so long,” Feagan said.
In order to avoid the lunch line and have as much time as possible to eat, junior Annie Cortes brings her own lunch to school.
“I honestly hate having to wait in line,” Cortes said. “I’m hungry. I’d rather come [to the cafeteria] and be able to eat immediately.”
Cortes has personally experienced the consequences of waiting in line.
“I’ve been in the line before,” Cortes said. “[The cafeteria staff] was serving one [item], but by the time I got down [to the end of the line], it was replaced with something else because they ran out of it. I was really disappointed.”
Solutions to the issue of overcrowding have been put into effect.
“We have made adjustments to make the lunch experience as pleasant as possible while improving instructional time in the classroom,” White said.
More tables have been added to the commons area to accommodate an additional 90 students. Students can also choose to eat outdoors in the courtyard.
Larger lunch periods have been extended from 25 to 28 and 29 minutes as well.
“That has helped tremendously by offering some space to spread out and more time to eat,” White said.
Administration will be looking at solutions, but there will be no changes implemented for the 2016-2017 school year.
Input and voiced concerns from students are welcomed and are a necessary factor in determining a proper solution to overcrowding issues in the cafeteria.
“Students should be a part of coming up with solutions to deal with what we have and the constraints that we have,” White said. “Voiced concerns are welcomed.”
Although the lower number of students in second lunch has been a key contributor to overcrowding, for some it is a positive.
To STAR teacher Scott Rieck, second lunch is more of a benefit than a disadvantage.
“[Second lunch] is a convenience to me,” Rieck said. “It gives my students and I a break in the middle of that class period, [time] to get up, the chance to use the restroom and come back to finish up that last 25 minutes.”
Furthermore, Rieck believes teachers have learned how to deal with having their class interrupted.
“We’ve been going down this road for years now,” Rieck said. “Surely, teachers have figured out when the best time to do a lab or test is. If it’s still an issue after all these years, maybe they need to reevaluate their own strategies.”
The cafeteria staff has adapted to overcrowding.
“Although [managing the lunch lines] is uncomfortable, we’ve honestly gotten used to it,” Feagan said. “We know how many [students] we’re going to serve on each line.”
Additionally, a smaller second lunch is not always a drawback for the cafeteria staff.
“During second lunch, we just serve off of one line,” Feagan said. “That way, we can get caught up in the dish room. It’s nice for us.”
Nevertheless, White believes the cafeteria staff have been contenders in managing and coping with these issues.
“The kitchen staff has done an excellent job of preparing food and serving our students,” White said. “Kids will have to wait in line for eight to nine minutes on average. I think that says a lot about our kitchen staff who make sure that food is ready, equipment is ready and kids move through the line quickly and efficiently. To serve 350 kids in about ten minutes is very impressive.”