Rise & Dine

It is 9:30 am and you are feeling hungry. What meal would you probably look for? Breakfast is what I eat at 9:30 am. However, In 2014, the Daily News and WNYC reported that more than 56 percent of schools began serving lunch before 11 a.m. This year, not much has changed. Throughout the city, public schools are sending students to the cafeteria as early as 9 a.m. and calling it lunch. All NYC Public Schools serve free Breakfast to students roughly 30-60 minutes before their 1st instructional period begins. If they are then serving breakfast only 2 hours later what is the likelihood that students are even hungry by then? The average school day is 6 hours and twenty minutes. If they are being served lunch within the first two hours what are they going to do when they are hungry again during the remaining four hours?
The DOE says the director of operations at each Borough Office advises principals that lunch should begin no earlier than fourth period when possible. Fourth period, depending on the school’s start time should begin around 10:30am. Susan E. Wagner High School in Staten Island serves lunch at 8:58 a.m. six minutes before its 2014 lunchtime, according to OFNS. The school had 3,284 students last year, according to the DOE’s 2017-2018 School Quality Guide.
Robert A. Van Wyck Junior High School here in Queens serves lunch at 9 a.m., compared to 9:57 a.m. in 2014. The school had 1630 students last year, according to the DOE’s 2017-2018 School Quality Guide.
Jamaica High School, which served lunch at 9:06 a.m. in 2014, closed at the end of that school year. Today, four different schools, including the High School for Community Leadership (HSCL), operate in the building. In 2014, HSCL served lunch at 9:06 a.m.
Tottenville High School had 3,808 students last year, according to the DOE’s 2017-2018 School Quality Guides. It has two cafeterias and five lunch periods, the first beginning at 9:37 a.m. and the last ending at 1:33 p.m. Even with 2 cafeterias serving lunch to 3,808 students is impossible to do without starting before 4th period.
School principals are the deciding factor in determining school lunch times. However in schools that are overcrowded or share space with other schools principals may not have much of a choice. They need to take into consideration the capacity of school cafeterias and the safety of students when deciding who will eat lunch when. Putting principals in a situation where they must bargain and negotiate with colleagues for prime lunch periods is an indication that something is wrong with our system. Principals should be instructional leaders and spend their time ensuring that the quality of classroom instruction is effective and equitable across their school building and in the system at large. When principals are expected to sit at a bargaining table with not only other DOE principals but charter school staff as well, and argue over feeding their students lunch at an appropriate time we should have no wonder why graduation rates citywide are only at 74%.
“School meals are proven to support academic achievement and are a critical source of nutrition for food-insecure students who depend on free or reduced price school meals,” says Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokesperson for the Virginia-based School Nutrition Association. If students are fed lunch too early they will choose not to eat. They need the nutrition to optimally perform in class and on assessments. However, in countless NYC DOE schools we are feeding students too early causing them to be distracted by hunger pains later in the day. Are we setting them up to fail?
City Councilmember Mark Treyger, a former Brooklyn public school teacher who chairs the Council’s Committee on Education agrees that we are doing a disservice to students by feeding them lunch too early in the day. “Why are we starting lunch at 9 in the morning just to check a box and denying the fullness of the opportunity,” Treyger says. “If students have school starting at 7:30 in the morning they might have a lunch period that is very early as well. How does the DOE intend to accommodate needs? The system is not being built around the needs of children.”
“The link between food and learning is really strong and children need to eat whole, nutrient-dense foods for lunch,” says Andrea Strong, a journalist and founder of the parent-led advocacy group The NYC Healthy School Food Alliance. “It leads to obesity when kids leave school hungry. They go for what’s easy and think, ‘I need snacks, I need snacks.’ So they get a candy bar because it’s quick to fill you up.”
My message to the mayor and the chancellor is loud and clear, if you want to see students perform to their potential decrease the number of students in large schools, provide adequate facilities to feed students at appropriate meal times and allow principals to be instructional leaders instead of negotiators. No one should be forced to eat lunch at 9:06am and not have access to food again until after 2:00pm. So why do we force our New York City Public School children to do just that?


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