By: Susannah Hughes (283)
On August 17th, Central High School students everywhere anxiously awaited their schedules for the upcoming school year. Upon opening Infinite Campus, some let out a groan of frustration. First period lunch. Ugh. Their lunch was going to be more of a breakfast. By seventh period, those students would be left with low energy and concentration, all because of hunger. It is imperative that all students have the energy necessary to focus in school. But in order to achieve this goal, the school district must reform the lunch schedule to eliminate first period lunch.
Scientifically, there is not much of an argument for early lunch times. In an article for Northwestern Medicine, Audra Wilson, a dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center, writes “Lunch should be about four to five hours after breakfast.” That means that if a student ate the school breakfast at 7:30, the best time for lunch would be 11:30-12:30, during fourth or fifth period. Otherwise, they’ll be left hungry and unfocused for a majority of the day.
For some students, the dietary damage is inconvenient; for others, it’s devastating. Food insecurity is a major issue in Philadelphia, and for some at Central, the free two meals provided are crucial to their nutrition. Samantha Sandhaus (283), the founder of Feeding Philly, works with students to establish food security for Central and the community at large. When asked about the importance of school meals, she says they are “essential.” According to Sandhaus, food insecurity has evolved to affect adults more than children in most Philly homes. “A lot of that comes from the ability to have two meals in school because you’re getting that steady five days a week assurance that you are going to be eating.” To take the full benefits of these meals away from a student is a tragedy, and Sandhaus says this is exactly what first period lunch does: “If you’re coming to school at 7:15 or 7:30, you get your breakfast and finish it by 8:00 and you have an 8:50 lunch time, you’re not going to want to eat again.” First lunch eliminates one of those important free meals for students struggling with food insecurity at home.
Despite some pessimists, administration doesn’t hold a grudge against the students selected for first period lunch; there simply isn’t a perfect solution to the problem. In a fantasy world, Central might build more space so that all students could have fourth, fifth, or sixth period lunches, but that is not feasible with the school’s current resources. However, that doesn’t mean that we should settle for the current problematic system. Essentially, Central High School needs more space. According to Mrs. Snyder, this year’s lunch schedule has roughly 100 students in first period, 350 students each in periods two through five, and 400 students each in periods six and seven. If there is space for 400 students in a lunch period, redistributing the unfortunate 100 in first period to periods four and five, subtracting fifty from second period and moving them to third would seem to do the trick. Then, first period lunch would cease to exist, second period would reduce to 300, and the 400 students in all other periods can enjoy their food without the complication of lunch mingling with their breakfast. However, this solution isn’t possible without more space. Currently, there are no classrooms unoccupied during first period for those 100 students who would need to be placed in a class. In order to solve the problem of first lunch, first we need to solve the problem of space, which is only possible if the school district provides Central with adequate resources.
400 may seem like a lot of students to feed in one period, but not everyone gets a school lunch. The cafeteria manager Ms. Gray-Williams says that periods five or six, the peak of the lunchroom day, get “100 to maybe like 165 or 170” students. This seems like a big number, but in comparison to the 350 and 400 students who have those lunch periods, it’s less than fifty percent. And the cafeteria staff are more than capable to meet this amount. According to Ms. Gray-Williams, they are “always ready to serve”!
For growing teenagers, the right nutrition at the right time is essential. Despite this, students in first period lunch are forced to struggle through the school day with an inadequate food supply. This is made worse for those with food insecurity, who rely on the two free meals at school for their nutrition. Although Central High School administration is working with limited resources, we must receive more help and devote more energy as a school community to eradicating first lunch. With all of the issues that stem from it, Central High School must side with health and eliminate it.