- Associated Press - Sunday, October 15, 2017

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) - Hastings Senior High staff said they are pleased with changes to the lunch schedule that may be responsible for a decrease in the number of students misbehaving.

The Hastings Tribune reports that at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, the district moved from three 45-minute lunch periods to four 35-minute lunch periods.

“With that (the longer lunch period) we found that they would get their food and eat and then they would have a lot of downtime,” said Principal Tom Szlanda. “They would eat and put their trays away and it was 25 minutes of downtime where it wasn’t structured productive time.”

It was at the start of the 2016-17 school year that Szlanda started looking into a way to address the lunchroom situation where there would be an overcrowded room of students who had more free time on their hands that sometimes led to unfavorable situations.

“We believe it’s a very efficient change we’ve made with this,” Szlanda said. “We don’t have the problems, behavioral issues we had last year. It’s just really efficient and effective, very smooth.”

Counselor Jalaene Choquette, who serves as a lunch monitor, said she knew the problems of the longer lunch periods of the past.

“When we had the longer lunches, one of the things we found being in there with kids is 45 minutes seems like a long time in a confined space,” she said. “They get done eating after 20-25 minutes and then there’s not really a lot of options for them so it gets noisy and a little chaotic.”

Choquette said she knows that lunch is a downtime for students and they should be able to have conversation and relax for a while. The longer they sat the louder and more rambunctious some students would become, however.

“This seems to work a lot better,” she said of the new system. “The kids still seem to have time to eat easily. They’re still done with a few minutes to spare and it never escalates to that same level of loudness.”

One difference Szlanda said he has noticed with adding a fourth lunch period is that there are fewer students in the cafeteria at any one time, meaning the space is less crowded.

“The kids have more space which with teenagers having some space and less time is a good thing,” he said. “It really helps with meeting expectations, eliminating distractions for the kids. It’s really working out well.”

Choquette said the additional lunch period and extra space was needed as more students have been taking advantage of the free and reduced lunch program.

“We had more and more kids that needed to eat in the cafeteria,” she said. “We were having trouble last year with those lunch rooms getting really full.”

To this point, Szlanda said he hasn’t had much comment from faculty or staff one way or the other on the change, which he sees as a good thing.

Students, however, aren’t happy with the shortened lunch period - something that doesn’t surprise Szlanda.

“Students always want more time because it’s their free time,” he said. “Even when we were on our longer lunches the kids said, ‘I want more time.’”

Sophomore Courtney Burns is one of those students.

“I would say I preferred last year’s schedule over this one because I feel like we got more time last year,” she said. “The lines are still as long and it hasn’t improved anything.”

Richard Francis Jr., a junior, said he doesn’t like the shortened lunch periods either.

“Back when we had longer lunch, we were able to get homework done and stuff like that,” he said. “Now we can’t really do that.”

Francis said before if he forgot an assignment, he could finish it at lunch. Now that’s not an option.

“It’s technically your responsibility to get it done before,” he said.

Francis also argues that more students are forced to eat on campus because there isn’t time to leave campus, eat somewhere and come back within the 35 minutes allotted.

“With the short time, they don’t dare leave and be late for classes,” he said. “I go to McDonald’s once in a while but I wouldn’t go all the way down to KFC and Sonic. I wouldn’t have time.”

Szlanda said he disagrees as he and the assistant principals have all spoke with many students who eat off-campus regularly.

“They’re finding they have plenty of time to take care of business,” he said of the conversations they have with students.

With the addition of a fourth lunch period, class schedules were changed a bit to accommodate the change.

The physical education classes always eat in the fourth lunch period after they are done with class while science classes eat in the first lunch period allowing them to have the next three periods or 100 minutes to complete projects.

“We want to give them the opportunity, if they’re doing labs, to have the whole time to work,” Szlanda said.

The same is true for classes in the areas of art, skilled and technical sciences and family and consumer sciences.

Other classes during that time may have a break, meaning students will be in class for 30 minutes, go to lunch and return to the class to finish their work.

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Information from: Hastings Tribune, https://www.hastingstribune.com


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