A View With A View

The Lunchtime Solution

This year, the 7/8s have been assigned the earliest lunch slot of the day— 11:30 AM and their lunchtime is preceded by recess.  The schedule allows 30 minutes for each, with no transition time between.

For context, recess takes place on the roof (the “10th floor”) and lunch takes place in the cafeteria ( in the basement). We realize this is not ideal and it is something we will be addressing in next year’s scheduling decisions; but for this year, it didn’t take long for everyone to realize we had a dilemma and for Bank Street kids to swing into action.

After several weeks of school, children in the 7/8s started complaining to anyone who would listen that there was not enough time for playing or eating. They let us know that they felt like they were rushing to get to the roof, playing fast, then rushing to get to lunch and still not having enough time to eat.

In typical Bank Street fashion, we asked the children what they thought we should do about this. While many of them were happy to engage with me in problem solving. One child said to me in frustration, “Why can’t you just FIX this? Aren’t you and Jed in charge of the school?”

They had somewhat of a point, so we started with an uncharacteristic adult intervention and arranged for an ‘express elevator’ to pick the 7/8s up each day from the 9th floor at the end of recess to take them directly down to the cafeteria. This allowed less wait time during the transition—one problem was solved. Several others still needed to be tackled.

In order to learn more about their concerns, I joined the community meetings in each of the 7/8s classes. I asked students what else they were noticing.

They said:
• Kids keep getting up from their chairs to get water and forks or spoons from the other side of the cafeteria
• On their way back from getting water, kids decide to stop and talk to their friends in other classes at other tables
• Because we don’t get to see each other much we keep talking and then people aren’t eating enough
• Also, all of that talking makes the cafeteria really noisy

Children had some ideas about what we could do based on their experiences in restaurants (and even picnics!). After identifying which issues we could readily fix, we decided to get pitchers for water, caddies for utensils/cups, and napkins for each of the cafeteria tables. The children surmised: if children stayed at their tables, they would eat more of their lunch.

They also suggested that if this new routine worked, teachers should let them have ‘lunch dates’ with kids from the other classes at the empty tables. They thought this would be a good reward for fixing the problem. They are not only good problem solvers; they are savvy negotiators.

With this settled, we got busy: children voted on what would go in each section of the caddy; they made labels to indicate what items went where; they made plans for how we’d manage the jobs of putting out the pitchers and caddies at the beginning of lunch and away at the end; we set up the shelf that would now live in the cafeteria with our new materials; and we picked a date for when we would launch the new 7/8s lunch-routine plan.

While I was sitting in the cafeteria with the 7/8s at lunch one day before we tried these new solutions, a child said to me with worry in their voice: “I’ve been thinking. I don’t think there is going to be enough room on the table for our lunch boxes, our lunches, and the pitcher and caddy.”

They told me they had a solution. They noticed that when they go to a restaurant, sometimes women hang their bags on hooks that are on the side of the table or at the bar. They thought we needed hooks like those for their lunch boxes.

I hated to shoot down good problem solving, but I was pretty sure we weren’t going to be drilling any holes in the walls or tables for hooks, so I suggested we give the new system a try without the hooks and see what we noticed.

Undeterred, they persisted.

In less than the typical ‘empower the children’ Bank Street fashion, I decided to lead them to another possible solution. I asked them if they remembered what we did in the Lower School with lunch boxes at lunch time ( to put their lunch boxes under their chairs). They replied incredulously: “Have you SEEN the floors in the cafeteria?! I don’t think so.”

Another child chimed in: “We might not be able to get hooks on the tables, but maybe we could find a hook for the back of the chairs.” Some agreed this was a good compromise. Others worried this solution would be too uncomfortable. I appreciated their out-of-the-box thinking.

Knowing we were anxious to get started, we finally agreed to launch our plan, without hooks, and see what happened. Sure enough,  in the end, everything fit on the table. No need for hooks. They were extremely disappointed; I was equally relieved.

During the first few weeks of our new lunch routine,  children excitedly called me over to their tables to observe: “Look, our ideas are working! Kids are eating and it’s not so noisy!”

It’s been many months since we launched the new 7/8s lunch plan routine. While the novelty has worn off,  all would likely agree: lunch is a better experience now than it was before we made the changes. Still, at least once each time I am on lunch duty, a child will proudly remind me that their ideas are still working even if now, on occasion, they benefit from gentle reminders to stay in their seats and focus on eating their lunches.

Three weeks ago, when I was called over to the table for what I thought was going to be another mutual ‘pat the back’ about our good problem solving work, a child said to me earnestly: “Don’t get me wrong. Things are definitely better, but now that the caddies are at our tables, I am noticing how much plastic we are using. Look at this … plastic spoons! Plastic forks! Plastic cups! It’s not good. It’s bad for the environment. We have to do something about this.”

These change makers are always on the lookout for the next opportunity. They already know, a change makers work is never done!

Laura Guarino is the Associate Head of School at Bank Street School for Children. Laura has been part of the Bank Street community for the past 32 years and never ceases to learn from what the children have to say!