DECATUR — In most elementary schools, lunchtime is deafening.
All those children have been saving up all morning to talk to their friends and they’re all in one room chattering.
At Durfee Magnet School, lunch time is quiet. Students stay in their classrooms and eat family style.
“We serve up the food, and everybody gets on their iPad,” said fifth-grader Jerome Merriweather, who helps by passing out milk. “We have to pass out everything that’s on the tray, and some people bring their lunch. It’s like an old-style, like a family restaurant, and you get to eat with your friends and just have fun with your friends.”
The teachers had the idea years ago, before his time, Principal Kirk Veitengruber said. The cafeteria was so chaotic and there was so much “drama” that the teachers suggested having lunch family style in individual classrooms. Not only did it cut down on drama, but they no longer had to spend part of the afternoon settling kids down who were upset and agitated, and lessons could go on peacefully after lunch. Lunch also can be a time for learning, as students practice their good manners of saying “please” and “thank you” and take turns serving each other.
A number of schools around the country are switching to family-style meals, and most choose it for the same reasons.
In Karen Walker’s class, the students watch a children’s version of CNN found online while they eat their lunch and learn to chat quietly if they want to talk, so as not to disturb the ones who want to watch the news.
“If people talk too loud, you can’t hear CNN, and then you don’t know what’s going on in the world,” Jakeria Mabry said.
Having lunch in their classroom gives them a chance to have a real break, said Jayla Lee, and they can eat with their friends and enjoy each other’s company without worrying about conflicts that might arise by having all the students converge on a lunchroom.
Aramark workers bring the food, already dished up for individual classroom distribution. Teachers send in orders a few days ahead of time so the food service knows how much to bring for each class, and in upper grades, students dish up lunch for each other. In lower grades, teachers help out.
Occasional messes are inevitable, but that’s also part of the learning, Veitengruber said if you spill something, you clean it up.
Teachers and students are happy with the setup, and it also saves on supervising lunch and recess.
“(Teachers) saw it as a solution to the lunchroom and recess problem, and it works, so we keep doing it,” Veitengruber said.