Lunch and Learn: “We knew we had to make a change”


Megan Pitt '23, Editor in Chief

On January 9th, Principal Dr. Toni Damon’s voice rang over the intercom of Cherry Hill West: “Today marks the start of the new Lunch and Learn system.” Lunch break 1 and lunch break 2 were officially divided.

Prior to the second week of January, the school had operated on a system students refused to adhere to. They were instructed to only take one lunch, but the directive was a mere recommendation and thus, students continued to disobey. It became common for West students to take two lunches, causing a decrease in available lunchroom seating. Students avoided attending a homeroom by strutting through the hallways and staking out in the bathroom. 

A recent conversation with Dr. Damon provided insight into the new system–Lunch and Learn–which requires students to indulge in a singular lunch period, balanced with time spent in a homeroom enriching their minds or bodies. 

The origin of the new order, Damon explained, was an immense decline in student grades: “We had to look at the data.” She fumbled a coffee cup between her fingers and sighed with frustration. In the first marking period, students were acquiring D’s and E’s–the lowest marks. A highly-ranked school academically, it had become increasingly apparent that an adjustment was necessary, not only for the maintenance of the school’s high scholastic performance but for the well-being–academically and emotionally–of the students. It got to the point, she said, where it was critical for her to turn to her colleagues and say, “Folks, this is just not working.” Vice Principal, Augie Ramos, added that the “primary goal was to reduce hallway traffic.” Often, he explained, students were occupying the hallways during the lunch hour for socialization purposes. Students were just looking for a location where they could spend time with their friends, he said. 

Nevertheless, the hallways were overcome with traffic, and teachers, he noted, were becoming increasingly concerned with safety. Monica Ciechon–a history teacher–dictated her concerns regarding the safety of the students: “Allowing 1,300 students the ability to freely roam the building created issues with adequate supervision.” In the fall, a conversation began and the administration was tasked with creating a new plan regarding the organization of West’s Lunch and Learn hour.

Lunch and Learn requires clear hallways 15 minutes into each 25-minute period. Damon explained, “[administrators] are mindful that [students] need time to get [to an approved location] so we’re giving that 10-15 minute time to get what you need and go where you would like to be.” Stationed throughout the corridors are administrators and hall monitors (teachers assigned such duty) advising pupils to recognize a venue favorable to their desires. “[Students] can’t just hang out in the hallway,” Damon said.

Certain homerooms appeal to academics, providing enrichment in subjects such as math, English, science, world language, etc. Damon noted that the curation of these locations was based on the intention of “providing an opportunity for students in areas of weakness to get the support they need.” In regard to whether their establishment makes any real changes, Damon said “we won’t see that until the next round of grades.” It is currently unclear her predictions regarding the outcome of student grades, but it was apparent that she expects higher marks and test scores.  The second marking period grades are to be finalized and available for student viewing on February 6th. Still, Damon noted that grades would not be accurately assessed until the conclusion of the third marking period–in April–when the Lunch and Learn system had been in place for the entirety of the term.

Other homerooms provide opportunities for relief and entertainment, Damon described, her voice bubbling with optimism. Among the offerings in relation to physical education are yoga classes, Diva Richards workout programs, and free activities such as basketball and badminton in the Jones Gym. Clubs have the opportunity to meet at least once per cycle. Damon, along with other members of the administration, hopes these activities provide some release for students. The 2022-2023 school year has seen a mass increase in class cuts and the hope of the West administration is to increase class attendance by negotiating other openings for socialization and recreational athletics during the 7-hour school day. “We expect students to partake,” Ramos said. Overall, Damon dictated “we’re trying to do the best that we can for our children here.”

  Later discussions with teachers further provided an understanding of the Lunch and Learn institution. Those willing to go on record with their insight agreed that they aren’t completely certain about the true impact on hallway congestion. Anna Marie Fiore–a business teacher–has placed her trust in the matter in the hands of her colleagues: “I’m hearing that there is less congestion in the hallways. I’m trusting, hearing that from administrators and other teachers, that that’s true.” Fiore, leaning over her desk, excited to speak, reflected on the program as an entity. “It’s a start,” she said. She took a deep breath–pensive: “There may be things we like, or don’t like, about it, but I think it’s a start.” 

Jason DeFuria–a science teacher–noted that he felt there was certainly an increase in homeroom attendance. Despite the rising number of homeroom attendees, DeFuria asserted that he felt there was “no change yet in [academic] performance.” As Damon described, this declaration can not be accurately evaluated until the collection of final marking period three grades in April.

Psychology teacher Daniel Rogers agrees with the administration that the system holds academic value, but noted that the majority of the students in his homeroom were simply in attendance because “it’s a comfortable place to eat lunch and socialize.”  The new lunchtime procedure promotes strong relationships between students and their teachers, Rogers commented. He also stated, “I feel good that [the students] want to be there.” He swept his right arm across the classroom, gesturing at the pupils bursting from each desk, and smiled: “This is what Lunch and Learn is about.”

Several students also shared their perceptions of Lunch and Learn. Junior Collin Duckett was visibly frustrated. “The current solution is backfiring on…the student body who minds their business and does what they’re told and wants to learn,” he said. The notion that the well-behaved children of the school are being punished for the actions of the poorly-behaved students consumes many at West. 

Junior Tommy Rutter emphasized scheduling conflicts. He used to stagger his teacher visits–attending extra help with his physics teacher LB1 and with his English teacher LB2. Now, both subjects are only available for aid LB2. Rutter expressed his exasperation. It is becoming increasingly difficult to receive assistance. 

Nevertheless, Duckett assured the administration that he was aware of their purpose: “It was [created] with good intentions.” He recognized that the school had recently been overcome with conflict during the lunch hour and his voice was confident as he stated, “[the issues] need to be handled.” He was unsure, though, if this new system was the correct way to do so.

Damon would like students to know she is aware of their concerns and is actively working to bring all voices together to work toward a solution.