Disclaimer: The following is a Milestone staff editorial and it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the McNicholas administration, faculty, or community as a whole. All interviews were conducted prior to the end of the school day on February 25, 2020. This piece is a culmination of approximately month of interviewing, researching, and collaborating as a staff.
The beginning of the 2019-2020 school year was accompanied by numerous changes in the standard daily schedule which traded a 48-minute lunch for a shorter 35-minute lunch on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, and introduced two block days a week that include three separate 30 minute lunches. With less down time and/or time to work on homework and make up tests, students and faculty are witnessing repercussions with respect to fostering interpersonal relationships, accomplishing homework, making up tests, and meeting with students.
Of the previous 48-minute lunch bell, sophomore Matthew Mindrum said, “You could actually get stuff done. Now it’s not as good because we have less time.”
With 48 minute lunches every day, students had a total of 240 minutes a week of lunch time, whereas the cumulative amount of time students spend in lunch with the present schedule is reduced to 165 minutes [MTF at 35 minutes each and 2 block days at 30 minutes each].
Shortened lunch bells take away time for students to interact with each other and foster communal relationships outside of the classroom. Thirty minute lunches allow for enough time to eat; however, if one has any intention to socialize or make up a test, it may be at the cost of a full meal.
“If used properly, I think [having more down time] is very helpful. Whether it’s getting a quick homework assignment done to ease some of that stress or to get questions answered. I think those are even important as well to helping mental health… but I think the social aspect of it is important as well just because it gives everyone a chance to connect, even if it’s with a teacher or with another adult opposed to a peer or something like that; it’s just as beneficial,” counselor Matt Wehrman said.
McNicholas prides itself on having a strong community-like feel, and those communities are primarily built when students and faculty are free to explore the relationships they have with others outside of the classroom setting, as human beings are far more than the work they do in one specific class. As compensation for the loss of time during the lunches, McNicholas is, in turn, offering explore bells and flex time once a week when the schedule allows.
Given as a way to go beyond the traditional curriculum, explore bells help to expand students’ knowledge on topics they wouldn’t normally have such as learning how to change a tire, how to complete taxes, and more. While explore bells offer new opportunities for students, they are not free time for students to tailor to their own personal needs and workloads. The structured nature of an explore bell presents itself more as an elective class, and less as an opportunity for students to make up tests or meet with teachers.
Along with an introduction to explore bells, a 25-minute flex time has been added to the Thursday block day schedule. The basis of flex time was to give students a break from their day-to-day classes as well as give flexibility to the schedule to add an advisory bell, presentations, or pep rallies without having to create a new schedule each time there is a speaker or a mass.
“On the Monday, Tuesday, Friday schedule, there is a 13-minute difference. Block days stay at 30. You guys are great kids, but the longer you guys stay [in the cafeteria] the messier it gets,” Director of Student Life Mike Orlando said. Besides the inevitable mess that ensues as a byproduct of high-schoolers at lunch time, there was discussion about students having too much time and becoming restive.
“[The administrative staff] got the impression that lunch time was too long, that students were betting bored, and seemed to be restless. I don’t know that the answer is a longer lunch,” principal Dave Mueller said.
Though there was a strong idea behind explore bells and flex time, a variation in the bells and shortened lunch periods lead to students and teachers having difficulties in balancing academics with the other aspects of high school life.
“I’m rushed. It’s very stressful and it’s hard to balance academic and student life,” senior Maddie Mullinex said. Students previously used their longer lunch bells to accomplish homework, make up tests, meet with faculty members, and foster important relationships with friends.
Because McNick switched to having a block schedule once a week, they have now switched to having three lunches during block days instead of two. Students who have the first lunch go before their class, students who have the second eat during their class, and students with the third lunch each in between that class and the next one.
“It fit well into the schedule to have it that way. It was a suggestion of mine to do that, to have less people in there at one time. Less people, we could have less time, and from my selfish standpoint I guess is less mess and less worry about people and where they’re at,” Orlando said.
Sharing meals carries a certain sort of sacredness that is not only expressed multiple time in the bible, but also in different experiences that are offered to students such as Kairos and Appalachia where three meals a day are shared among students and used as a tool to build community. “I think we need longer lunch to have more time to eat and [socialize],” senior Ben Berger said. Breaking bread with others and socializing over meals has been studied and offers the suggestion that people create bonds of trust when given the time to share similar foods at meal time and interact with one another. Shortening the time McNicholas students have to eat during the day, also shortens the time they have to build deeper connections with one another.
While it can be argued that having smaller lunches with fewer people leads to a smaller mess in the cafeteria, having fewer students in the cafeteria also leads to issues having enough people to clean tables at the end of lunch. For example, if the third lunch only has one table cleaner, that person might be stuck cleaning the entire cafeteria. The argument has been made that shortening and making the lunches smaller may reduce cafeteria stress.
Wehrman discussed the possibility that some students may not have a set group of people in which they feel comfortable sitting with in the cafeteria, and therefore they may feel an increased level of stress during lunch. However, creating three lunches may have indirectly exacerbated this issue. Having three lunches means students have a smaller chance of having other students that they know and are comfortable with in their respective lunch bells. Ensuring that people have a place to sit at lunch is an inclusion issue, and not one regarding length of time or amount of lunch periods in a day.
Furthermore, students have a lower chance of having a schedule that lines up with a teacher with whom they need to meet. If a student needs to talk to a teacher, whether it be for a question, or to try to make up an assignment, they often have to find time before or after school, or wait until the next day, or in some cases two days. Students are encouraged to be involved in clubs and athletics, and many work after school, so finding time to stay after school to meet with a teacher is borderline impossible. With an early start to the school day, and many students relying on bussing and carpools, coming in early becomes difficult as well.
“If a student were going to go make up a test that was designed to take the whole class period, said student no longer has the same amount of time built in the with the lunch schedule,” Business and Technology department chair Barb Gillming said. “So does a student have to start a quiz and then make the rest up after? Then where’s the integrity in that?”
The same issue presents itself to faculty as well. “It’s difficult meeting with students when they have various issues or when they have to make up tests,” Theology department chair Sam Roflow said. The lunch bell is not just a time for students and faculty to eat, it is also a time that is important for building relationships and accomplishing work outside of the classroom.
“We really do want to hear their feedback, and this seems about the right time of the year to gather that. We’ve been through it for more than a semester; we’re not at the end of the year where students maybe don’t have the inclination to respond as much, so whatever candid feedback they can provide would be welcome,” Mueller said. “If it comes back resoundingly that [shortened lunches are] not a good feature, we can change that.”