By Sanai Rashid
A year ago, like clockwork, every 11:25 AM, I would press the glowing red “Leave Meeting” button on Zoom. After exiting whatever class I was in, my computer screen with a million Google Classroom tabs cast a cool glow on my face. It was time for lunch! But I felt no enthusiasm.
Instead of texting my friends where they wanted to meet and rushing to my locker to get my bento lunchbox, I went on my bed, scrolling aimlessly through social media. With Zoom school, I would often fall asleep for lunch and slug back to my desk in time for the next class. Other days I would spend more time scribbling homework notes, munching on an apple as my friends texted me about their courses. Then on some mornings, when I felt hungry or energized enough, I baked chicken nuggets and fries in the oven and fell into a loophole of Jane the Virgin episodes.
But I missed lunch—our real lunch period. Everyone rushing down to the cafeteria to find a table or scouting out a fun spot in the hallway to snack. Maybe you spent the hour in the library, taking a moment to enjoy your own company for a change. Perhaps you sat in a teacher’s room, chatting about life while eating a turkey sandwich. Wherever your heart took you during those 50 minutes to fill your stomach with food, throat with laughter, and nose with new smells, lunch was a period to unwind, take a break from schoolwork, and enjoy each other’s company.
Now, after being back in the building for the first time after eighteen months, it is obvious this school year is like no other, and lunch has shifted with it. Usually, students have the freedom to eat where they please as long as they clean after themselves. So for the first few days, my friends and I ate in the hallway; the cafeteria was way too crowded and chaotic anyways. After that, we usually ate in peace until one afternoon an administration member started yelling that we couldn’t eat in the hallways. So, we were ushered out of our spot and onto the 7th floor — which was even more crowded, until a teacher told us we couldn’t eat there either. It was stressful having to pack up and move like nomads, and the only thing I ended up eating that period was a banana.
The next day, Principal Brady officially announced that eating in the hallways was no longer an option due to the lack of school safety officers patrolling each floor. So now, things started to make sense, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling of the day before. I longed for the welcoming vibe that flowed throughout the building on the first day back, with Principal Brady giving fist bumps as we left school.
The only option left was to eat in the cafeteria — a fun environment, but a crowded one. New York City’s DOE guidelines express that students should keep three feet apart “where possible,” and that is not exactly possible in the lunchroom. Many students are still uncomfortable with eating in the cafeteria, and in a time of so many unknowns, it’s not hard to understand why.
So I asked a few members of my lunch table how they have felt about the state of lunch these past few weeks. Like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, they express both sides of the experience — the good, bad, ugly, and everything in between.
Theodora DiTommaso, 15, Junior
Favorite thing to eat at lunch: MadeGood Strawberry Granola Minis
Favorite place to eat lunch in the school building: Anywhere besides the cafeteria
“On the first day of school, I ate lunch in the cafeteria because everyone’s schedules were still falling into place, and it was the most accessible place to find my friends. Since then, it has been stressful trying to figure out where to spend the period. Everywhere in the school building is packed with people, and now that there are three lunch periods, not everyone has the same lunch band. Lunch is still a problem that needs to be reworked, but I don’t know precisely how the administration would approach the subject as there are so many different layers to the issue. For now, I enjoy the sense of security once recuperated with friends during lunch whenever and wherever we may be.”
Rebekah Wolfsonkilayko, 16, Junior
Favorite thing to eat at lunch: PB&J and dried mango bags
Favorite place to eat lunch in the school building: In the hallway on the 3rd or 4th floor
“On the first day, I ate lunch on the third floor. Figuring out where and who to eat lunch with is not as stressful as I expected and definitely not as stressful as freshman year! I honestly wish the administration would let us eat in the hallways again. That way, all the students can be combined into just 4th and 5th-period lunches, so no one has to suffer with 6th-period lunch. Also, staff should open up more than two doors to get into the cafeteria.
But I still enjoy lunch. It’s always fun when someone brings in something to share. The other day my friend brought in some cookies, and that was a very nice, unexpected thing. I also like knowing that I’ve packed myself something enjoyable, so I can look forward to eating it later in the day.”
Olivia Ruiz, 16, Junior
Favorite thing to eat at lunch: MadeGood Chocolate Banana Granola Bars, Smartfood popcorn, Hawaiian Kiawe BBQ Taro Chips
Favorite place to eat lunch in the school building: The cafeteria or third floor
“On the first day of school, I ate lunch on the third floor, a privilege my other friends and I had been looking forward to since freshman year! I love eating there since it allows me to wave and catch up with my other friends passing by. So, I honestly wish the administration would let juniors and seniors sit in the hallways for lunch again. As much as I enjoy eating in the cafeteria, it feels a little unsafe when hundreds of students are crammed in a single space. Nevertheless, one thing that never fails to make me smile during school lunch is catching up with my friends. School days are super stressful and fast-paced, so it is great to sit down with all of my friends, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company.
Overall, I have chosen to focus on the positives of this whole situation, but I can see how stressful lunch these past few weeks could be for the freshmen and sophomores who are still adjusting to the school and forming friendships.”
Emerson Tate-Alexander, 16, Junior
Favorite thing to eat at lunch: A salad and a clementine
Favorite place to eat lunch in the school building: By the lockers
“On the first day of school, I ate lunch on the third floor against the lockers. I love eating by the lockers since it gives you the ultimate privacy with your group of friends and spreads students out more. I had initial stress in the first few weeks when the rules about lunch were unclear, but now my friends and I have given up on trying to eat on a floor other than in the cafeteria. I wish the administration would let us eat in the hallways again; I don’t understand this problem. Some students eat in the basement, so what is wrong with children eating on any other floor. Also, shouldn’t the school want kids to be safely spread out? I don’t think it’s very safe — especially for the kids who aren’t vaccinated — for everyone to unmask at the same time pilled on top of one another in the cafeteria.
At least one thing about my lunch experience hasn’t changed — laughing with my friends as we eat is the best part of my day.”
As Beacon works through all the challenges that will come with our first year back, having a comfortable lunch period will undoubtedly be at the forefront of student’s minds. Hopefully, it remains a concern for administration as well, but until then, wherever you eat lunch, make sure you carve out a space for your well-being and try to relish in your break for the day.