Future of One Lunch

November 17, 2022

One Lunch coming soon to a PAHS near you

As the school year progresses, clubs start, football games are held, and report cards are published, questions about the One Lunch timeline have continued to surface. For 10 weeks, Princess Anne has operated with three, thirty-minute lunch periods, an objectively effective system. However, much of the student and teacher body is anticipating the return of One Lunch, one that will have its positives, and one that will have its negatives.

Princess Anne Principal Todd Tarkenton does have a date in mind for this switch, anticipating that PA could be back on the One Lunch schedule and “full speed ahead, definitely second term, if not second quarter.” This date, although tentative, is a step forward in the return of One Lunch, one that could mark its arrival in full effect within three-four months.

Tarkenton cited the major social, emotional, and academic benefits, how it allows for clubs to meet and for teachers to tutor as to why he is a large advocate for One Lunch. However, he prioritizes the safety of students and staff over everything else. He says that while there will not be an excessive number of restrictions, access to certain stairwells will be limited, quiet hallways for each day of the week will be established, and particular portions will be off-limits to provide a structured schedule. Furthermore, he said that during One Lunch, it will be essential to “ensure that our students know how to handle themselves in a less confined environment,” and wanted students to respect the rules and not “abuse the time.” 

The last school year a One Lunch was held on a regular basis was in 2019-2020, which means only current seniors have experienced a One Lunch. Many senior students have remarked praise for the schedule, expressing that it not only permitted them to get caught up on schoolwork, but allowed them to decompress and unwind. A senior echoed that sentiment, “I would sit in Coach Rhue’s room, eat lunch quickly, and go to the gym to play with some friends,” and that he hoped it would return.

While senior Katelyn Palmer agrees, and similarly wishes for its return, she voices a different side of the story. “You only had a 50-minute period to serve everyone in the school lunch,” said Palmer, “I had one friend that got lunch every day and she was in line for 30 minutes.”

PA had a taste of this problem when due to a PSAT-adjusted schedule, the entire school began lunch just after 11:30. The cafeteria was clogged and overwhelmed, a product of the unconventional schedule. “I think with only the seniors knowing about One Lunch, everyone else, three grade levels, had no idea what was going on,” Palmer commented.

The chaos showed that the first days and weeks of One Lunch will be chaotic, something that is unavoidable for such a large change in schedule. Yet, the administration and much of the student and teacher body at PA continue to support the adjustment, under the conviction that it will be a beneficial one. Whether a positive or negative change, One Lunch appears to be, at the moment, an imminent shift for PAHS.

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The two sides to One Lunch

This past Wednesday, as PSAT exams were conducted at Princess Anne, students were temporarily reintroduced to One Lunch, the popular lunch schedule that was removed from the school curriculum with the return from virtual learning. For some students, it inspired hope that One Lunch would permanently return, 

With One Lunch, students were free to eat in numerous areas around the school, and had a full hour to do so. According to Junior Heena Gurbuxani, the positives of one lunch justified wanting it to return. Gurbuxani wrote, in an email interview, “I think that PA should bring back one lunch. It seems to have so many benefits, you can see all of your friends, you can make up a test/quiz, meet with clubs, etc.” 

It was a breath of fresh air for many of the students at PA who enjoyed the college-like atmosphere, the same kind that even the school district likes to create, in order to prepare students for possibly attending a college. The available time and space provided allowed students to meet with teachers, friends, and other people around the school. 

While independence was a quality enjoyed by many students, there were some drawbacks to the system. For example, the elongated lunchtime meant that other classes were shorter, due to an hour of non-class time in the middle of the day. Also, the lunchroom had a tendency to be overcrowded and resulted in a chaotic atmosphere. In response to a question asking whether One Lunch should return, sophomore Eja Stevens said, “No, because it was very hectic and loud, and some people were standing up and eating because it was difficult to find seats.”   

Another persisting problem was the role of teachers in One Lunch. With the schedule came the task of managing students, even when class was not ongoing. I can understand that everyone wants to see their friends but we have to think about teachers as well when they have to sit and look after students basically on patrol rather than being in their classroom eating lunch quietly after teaching students,” added Stevens. 

However, the current lunch schedule, which sees three separate 30-minute periods where students are restricted to eating in either the cafeteria, atrium, or courtyard, is not exactly well-liked either. According to a survey, 63% of Princess Anne Students were unsatisfied with the current lunch schedule.  The inside of the building, even with divided lunch blocks, quickly fills up with students, leading to nearly every seat being taken. The implementation of this system was not without reason, however. For a lot of students, one lunch was a logistical and social nightmare.

One issue was the lines for school lunches. With the entire student body eating lunch in the same time period, it was difficult for most students to quickly get lunch and go somewhere to eat. Many students lost a large portion of their time simply waiting to eat in overcrowded lines. “ So many people in one place would be pretty tight. I’d be a little uncomfortable,” wrote sophomore Gabriella Manobanda.

Also with One Lunch came the problem of school safety, namely the fact that students could walk freely amongst the building. In part due to recent events and a growing concern for student safety, schools began to rethink the liberties and rights they gave to students, in exchange for security and ordinance. 

The largest problem with One Lunch, however, is how it was impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. The initial reason One Lunch was dropped was that the school needed to define where and when students could eat lunch for the purpose of contact tracing if a student was infected with the virus. This was integral to the school district’s efforts to reintroduce students to full-capacity in-person classes, without having a large breakout. 

As the pandemic continues to affect Virginia Beach, it was decided that the beginning of the 2022-23 school year would retain the bell lunch schedule, despite hopes from students. However, a response from a VBCPS official should be noted. At a back-to-school webinar in August, VBCPS Chief Schools Officer Matthew Delaney responded to an inquiry over the return of One Lunch. Said Delaney, regarding the eventual return of the old schedule, “We’re going to try to transition in the matter that makes the most sense.” 

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