Friday, February 22, 2013

Lunchroom Capacity Issues (Recess Before Lunch Part 3)

Our Apple Corps member, Mandy, has been reflecting on Concord's Recess Before Lunch program and how to encourage physical activity during the school day. See also Part 1 and Part 2 of her reflections.

Having recess before lunch seems simple, right?


Although the idea is not terribly complex, it produces all sorts of challenges. Scheduling conflicts, supervision issues, challenges with flow into and out of the lunchroom, and enough time for hand washing are just a few of the concerns schools have about making the switch (see this 2006 Journal of Child Nutrition and Management article for details).

At Concord, switching to Recess Before Lunch drastically highlighted the problem that students do not have enough time to eat lunch. Before the switch, students who spent most of the lunch period waiting in the lunch line lost out on recess time. After the switch to Recess Before Lunch, students had recess, but weren't done eating when it was time to get back to class.

Below is data from Concord from 2004-2011. As you can see from the graph, at Concord during the 15-minute lunch period, seat time has diminished by over 2 minutes since 2004. This is primarily due to increased student enrollment at the school.

Line transit time is the number of minutes students spend waiting in line to receive their lunch
Seat time is the number of minutes the last student to go through the lunch line has to sit and eat lunch 

For the 2012-2013 school year, Concord added 5 additional minutes to the lunch period (now 20 minutes) , implemented Recess Before Lunch, and put a salad bar in the lunch line.

However, even with these changes, it’s still a challenge to have enough time to eat.
  • Average seat time for kindergarteners and 1st graders: 5 minutes 
  • Average seat time for 2nd and 3rd graders: 6 minutes 
  • Average seat time for 4th and 5th graders: 8 minutes 
The last students through the lunch line may only have 3 minutes of seat time. During this time, they need to not only eat their lunches, but clear their trays and clean their tables. This is a far cry from the Seattle Public Schools-recommended 20 minutes of seat time.

Out of curiosity, I took a survey of how many students were still eating at the end of lunch. 

Blue represents students finished eating at the end of lunch, red represents those not finished.
As you can see, even though older students eat faster, even not all of them are done eating at the end of the lunch period. Almost a quarter of kindergarten and first grade students were still eating five minutes after the end of the lunch period.

Among Concord staff, there is a consensus that something needs to change to ensure that students have more time to eat. However, figuring out what that “something” is remains the challenge.

However, the staff at Concord are on the right track. They are talking about "how much time is enough time to eat" and how to ensure that their students not only get a healthy lunch, but get enough time to eat it.

Regardless of whether or not Recess Before Lunch stays at Concord, a newly-formed staff work group will continue to work on the issues that the switch made apparent.

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