OCHS community lunch a work in progress

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Principal says new one-hour lunch period beneficial for students

OCEAN CITY ­­­–– In a grassy, brick-paved courtyard, seniors can relax and enjoy lunch at picnic tables; all students can go to the gym with their lunch and congregate on the bleachers, eat in the cafeteria or stand at tables set up in the hallways.

The concept of community lunch – part of the high school’s new six period rotation schedule – is new this year at Ocean City High School, but school officials say they are still working out the kinks.

Reporting on the new lunch program at a Monday, Sept. 17 Upper Township School Board meeting, board member Jill Casaccio, who serves as a voting member of the Ocean City school board, described the scene as “a little chaotic,” but assured fellow board members that Ocean City officials were “addressing the problems.”

Casaccio said the program was experiencing “growing pains”

“It’s not pretty, there’s no doubt about it,” she said, adding that students were standing in long lines and were not permitted to go to their lockers.

There were concerns about what the students who normally eat outside would do on cold or rainy days.

After the meeting, Casaccio said she did not mean to be critical of the new plan, rather she wanted to “share concerns” that parents and others had expressed to her. 


“It’s going to be a little chaotic the first week or two, that’s to be expected,” she said. “The important thing is that they are fixing the concerns. I just wanted to make sure that the Upper board was aware that there were a few kinks; that the issues were getting addressed and the situation is not being ignored. Ocean City is on top of the situation. It’s much better to have an hour to eat than 23 minutes.”

Principal Matthew Jamison agreed that there were some issues.

“This is new for everyone,” he said. “We’re all getting used to a new system.”

The plan, he said, is “fluid.”

“We knew some things would pop up that we didn’t think about,” he said. “We went into this with the idea that it could be tweaked. I have only spoken to one parent with a concern. All in all, the students really like the longer lunch period. We just need to get used to it.”

Offering everything from the standard hot lunch to a taco bar and deli, it’s almost like a food court. Replacing four, 23-minute lunch periods, the more relaxed one-hour lunch period allows students to eat at a slower pace, socialize, study, visit the guidance office, do homework or get extra help from a teacher. Once the schools various clubs and activities start up, advisors will also have the option to host a meeting.

“There are a lot of possibilities,” he said. “We’re having our club carnival this week and once the clubs and activities start, that opens up a whole new world during lunch. The guidance office is going to have things for seniors in terms of college applications and filling out forms. We’re going to have information about the NCAA clearinghouse for juniors and seniors.”

Jamison said students are excited about the rotation schedule. From a student perspective, he said it’s an intermediate step between high school and college or the work world.

“It does a lot to improve the quality of life for the students on many levels. This type of scheduling relieves a lot of anxiety for students,” he said. “It makes for a more interesting day.”

Some of the problem, he said, is perception.

“When the lunch starts, it does appear to be chaotic,” he said. “Last year, we had one location where kids could buy food and a snack bar. Now we have seven locations. There are lines, but there have always been lines. We had lines with a 23-minute lunch. The kids are learning what is offered and where, at seven locations. The kids are still learning. We acknowledge that it may take some time.”

On rainy days, he said, the auxiliary gym would be opened up to house extra students.

Jamison and other administrators visited several schools utilizing a similar schedule. Not all of them had a seat for every student.

The outdoor courtyard, he said, is designated for seniors and seats 250 students. The cafeteria holds 450 and between the gymnasium and the hallway, there is room for the rest of the 1,175 Ocean City High School students.

“Every student has a seat,” he said. “If there are students sitting on the floor, that’s where they want to be.”

The library is open for 100 students, but they may not eat there.

“You want to keep the eating area confined, so you can clean,” he said. “This was well-thought out. We did not want to add to the custodial staff.”

Students, he said, are not permitted to roam the building, but they are given five to seven minutes to go to their lockers before the lunch starts. If a student needs to leave the central area, they may request a pass from a teacher.

“If they want to go to a locker during lunch they just have to get permission from a teacher,” he said. “We can’t just let them walk all over the building, that wouldn’t be safe.”  

Jamison said the new schedule creates a better school climate. Students are enrolled in up to eight courses plus a lunch. Six of the eight classes meet on a daily basis. The schedule works on a four-day rotation; classes meet on three of the four days for 55 minutes.

“There are two main reasons for doing it,” he said. “One is instructional; the class period stretches from 42 to 55 minutes. Teachers have more time to deliver instruction.”

The scheduling also minimizes passing times with two in the morning, two in the afternoon, which means less time in the hallways. He said lunch becomes less of a disruption to instruction time. The rotation of classes, he said, creates variety and supports different styles of teachers and students.

“The other reason is social, the community lunch. What we wanted for the students was to be able to shut down mid-day, for that one hour, have a lunch break; see their friends. They don’t have to be rushed; they don’t have to inhale their food. They can study and do homework. If they need to go to the guidance office they are not missing class time.

“Kids are not robots, and a 23-minute lunch gave them no time to socialize,” he said. “If they didn’t have friends in their lunch period they were unhappy. Lunch drove instruction, with four sittings in the middle of the day. It consumed a lot of energy and management. It was not problem-free. You had students eating as early as 10:16 a.m. or as late as 1 p.m. If you ate at the first lunch, you’d have to go through the whole rest of the day without eating; if you eat last, you may not have eaten since 7 in the morning. It’s too long without a break.”

Jamison said he asks for patience as the students adjust.

“It’s very different from what lunch was when the parents of our students were in school, so I understand the concerns,” he said.

“I can say, having seen other schools that have been running this schedule for 10 years or more, I think ours runs better, quite frankly,” he said. “If people have an issue, I would like them to let me know. We want every child to enjoy and benefit from our lunch, which I think they are quite frankly.”

Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said she thinks it’s a good plan.

“The school is quieter, more focused,” she said. “The students have an opportunity to sit with their friends and chat. The camaraderie is good. They have a chance to socialize and they are enjoying it.” 


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