Unit Lunch is one of the defining characteristics of Ridgewood High School. Principal Jeff Nyhius commented in a previous interview that “The classes shut down and the building opens up. I love the fact that the teachers can connect with and eat with other teachers. I love the fact that a lot of teachers run clubs during Unit Lunch. I love the fact that kids actually eat in every little spot in the building.” But with the RHS student body booming at almost 1800 students, is Unit Lunch really the best way to accommodate everyone?
Students themselves don’t necessarily love waiting half the period in line to buy lunch, being forced to eat on dirty hallway floors, or arguing with their peers over a place to sit for 45 minutes a day. However, the lunch experience at RHS is definitely not universal, with Freshmen eating in Gym 1, Sophomores in the cafeteria, and upperclassmen populating both the cafeteria and the campus center. These different experiences led me to collect feedback from many different RHS students among different grades.
Max, a freshman, tells the Times about his early experiences in the high school. “I have to eat outside in the cold. At least the people that sit on the floor are properly heated. When it rains I don’t really know what to do.” He also feels like he has struggled to get his lunch, noting that “The lines are really long to the point where I’m dropping my food trying to get out of the lunchroom.”
He highlights the difference between high school and middle school lunch periods. “A dysfunctional part [of RHS lunch] is that EVERYONE in the school has lunch at the same time, while back in middle school, which has fewer people, we had lunch at different times.”
Audrey, a sophomore, currently sits with her friends outside as well and is unsure of where they are going to eat when the weather gets colder. This is especially becoming an issue among students with winter less than a month away. “Unit Lunch is nice for club meetings and people who have friends in different grades, but it’s not practical for anything else. In most cases, it just leads to discomfort.” She also observes that “having everyone eating lunch at the same time can be really intimidating for students, especially for those who struggle socially.”
A junior tells us “The first two days of school, I tried eating at school but it was too crowded, so walking home was easier.” She also believes there is a lot of overcrowding at school with a lack of places to eat. She feels lucky to live close enough to school to walk home during the lunch period: “I’ve seen people eat alone on the floor because the tables are too crowded and it makes me very sad because I know that would probably be me and the friends I eat lunch with if I didn’t live so close to school.”
A senior disagrees. “I think having a Unit Lunch is much better than having periods of lunch. This would make it harder to have lunch with friends and multiple grades in a class,” she says.
Although she likes Unit Lunch as a whole, she expresses the main issue with it: junior and senior seating in the campus center, which goes back to the issue of overcrowding. “It’s not the best situation, because looking around the campus center, it’s almost as if more juniors have spots than seniors. Considering it is our last year, seniors should come first. The freshmen have the gym as their designated eating area, the sophomores have the cafeteria, but seniors and juniors share an area. Juniors shouldn’t sit in the campus center if it means seniors struggle with seating.”
So, do we need a change? The senior says no; “Overall, I think we should keep the Unit Lunch, but find a new place for the juniors to sit.” However, Audrey thinks that “seeing a change would be great and would make a huge change in how stressful lunch can be sometimes.” The junior notes that “Sometimes the pizza line goes around the corner to the end of the hall, or the pasta line stretches to the other end of the cafeteria, so I think they should work out some schedule to make buying lunch easier and not take up as much time so kids can actually eat.” Max agrees, stating: “Lunch should be like middle school with each grade having lunch at a certain time to eat.” Although some RHS students benefit from the Unit Lunch, most are critical of it, comparing it to the effective lunch system in middle school.
The alternative for students to avoid the main problems of waiting for lunch and overcrowding is for students to wake up earlier and pack their own lunch every day, which can be difficult to arrange, not to mention costly. Doesn’t the benefit of having a period for club meetings get defeated when students can’t get there on time because they are waiting behind hundreds of other people buying lunch? How many times have students burst in late to a meeting with their school lunch tightly grasped in one hand? The student body should speak for itself, and with a general sentiment opposed to Unit Lunch, we should look to new avenues for change.
Graphic: High Times