Communal Lunch Period a Success at Berkeley Heights Schools

Principal Frank Geiger demonstrates new lunch arrangement. Credits: Liz Keill
Mary Ann McAdam and Pamela Wilczynski describe anti-bullying policy. Credits: Liz Keill
Board members hear Felezzola's facilities report. Credits: Liz Keill
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Rather than staggered lunch periods that have caused long lines, running out of food and headaches to both students and teachers, a common lunch period appears to resolve a number of issues.
Principal Frank Geiger if Columbia Middle School reported on the new schedule practice days at the Thursday, July 25, Board of Education meeting.
“I waited and got my lunch,” one student told Geiger. “He got it,” the principal said. Students realized they could wait and still receive any item on the menu. Plus, there were plenty of places to eat by opening one of the gyms with a food cart moved into the room. Classes have been cut back from eight to six, allowing time for everyone’s lunch, including faculty.
Each class runs a little longer, but students say it isn’t much longer and “we did more than we normally do.”  Teachers report that the schedule means “a lot less moving around.”

According to Geiger, the cafeteria staff was well prepared, there was plenty of food and no fewer choices than during any lunch. In September, three lunch stations will be provided.  The 30-minute lunch period still allows time for clubs to meet or for students to consult with a teacher.
Geiger said he asked seventh- and eighth-graders to wait until the sixth-graders had been served. One student asked about installing a vending machine. “Why not?” Geiger said. “If all the student wants is a drink and has brown bagged his lunch, he shouldn’t have to go through the cafeteria line.”  Students have also asked about eating in the newer, air conditioned gym. That option is being considered. Superintendent of Schools Judith Rattner said the locker rooms are near the ‘old gym,’ which can be used for warm-ups.  Students will also be allowed to eat in the courtyard.
“We had all hands on deck for an hour,” Geiger said of the change. “It’s a positive thing. It was a good two days,” he said of the experiment.
Another presentation was made by district coordinator May Ann McAdam and Columbia Middle School Teacher Pamela Wilczynski on the anti-bullying bill of rights assessment.  A rubric was developed by the New Jersey State Commissioner of Education. The district’s Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying Specialists met with the coordinator to review the process. The results of the district’s self assessment will be posted on the website.
McAdam said the top score possible was 75 and that the six schools in Berkeley Heights scored from 55 to 68.  “Because we did our own assessment, we were harder on ourselves than someone coming in,” she said. “The results were fairly consistent and not just rubber-stamping.”
Lower grades were attributed to support staff and new employees. They will be the focus of further training, she said.  Variations among the schools reflected how the process was handled and “it was the first time for something that concrete.”
At this time, she has no way of comparing Berkeley Heights with other districts. At the next Union County meeting in September or October, she’ll have more information, she said. The focus was on doing the investigations correctly rather than specific areas, such as cyber bullying. A School Climate Survey has been conducted and will be presented at a future Board of Education meeting.
The board received a facilities report from Donna Felezzola which included a water main replacement at the Early Childhood Center. The district is looking into solar panels to reduce energy and electricity expenses.
The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 12, at 8 p.m.

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